By Mei-ing Cheok, KF14, Ghana
When I first arrived in Accra, Ghana about a week ago for my Kiva Fellowship, I had to find my way to Cape Coast, where my microfinance institute, Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN), is located. These were the instructions I got from Jacqueline, another Kiva Fellow, whom I was replacing at CRAN:
- Take a taxi across the road from the airport, not the ones right at the exit because they are more expensive
- Go to the STC bus station and get on a bus headed towards Cape Coast
- Alight at the Goil petrol station in Cape Coast.
I confess that once I got off the plane, I had no idea what I was doing; I was just winging it. In fact, I got all the above steps wrong. I took the expensive taxi and the cabbie convinced me to go to the “Ford” bus station* instead of STC and I got dropped off at the market instead of Goil.
*The bus station is really just a series of mini-buses parked in line next to a market. I was hit with a sensory overload by the throngs of people selling, shouting and jostling. The change in plans worked out well because the Ford buses left more frequently and travelled faster, so I arrived in Cape Coast earlier!
Navigating the public transport system here is an art. It’s very different from my home country, Singapore. For someone new to Ghana, it’d seem like you need a special code to make sense of what appears to be chaos, to get from Point A to Point B. It does help tremendously that Ghanaians speak English and they’re extremely friendly and helpful.
There are bus companies that provide scheduled trips and fixed fares. But the two main modes of transport that most people use for intra-city travel are informal services: share-taxis and tro tros.
You can charter a cab, but it is costly: around GHC3-5 (US$1.90-$3.15). Share-taxis usually ply certain routes around town and pick up and drop off passengers at any point along the way. The fare, around 40 pesewas (US$0.25), is a fraction of what it’d cost to charter a cab. If the driver has a high turnover of passengers, he could potentially earn as much as, if not more than, if he were to have just one full-paying passenger.
But how would you know which cab or tro tro to flag down? HOW do you flag one down? Well, here’s the secret code: if you’re headed for the market in Kotokoraba (the main town and heart of Cape Coast) and you’re on a road that doesn’t lead directly to it, you point with your thumb in the direction of Kotokoraba. Also, if you’re with a friend, you indicate with two fingers that there are two passengers. If the taxi driver is headed in that direction and he has space, he would stop for you. If not, he’ll zip on by and you wait for the next taxi! (see pictures below)Click to view slideshow.
Now tros tros are vans that can accommodate more people – and are therefore, even cheaper – and they also ply longer routes, between towns. They also serve as a delivery service! If someone in Kotoboraba wanted to send her mother a sack of oranges in Takoradi, which is about 2 hours away, she can pay the tro tro driver to deliver it for her. Also, letters delivered by tro tros arrive faster than those delivered by the postal service, which usually takes three days.
In spite of the complete and utter confusion I felt when I first arrived, not to mention a strong measure of fear, I somehow managed to find my way to Cape Coast thanks to some helpful Ghanaians. The other volunteers and foreigners I have met here seem to be travelling around on their own quite comfortably. I haven’t reached that stage yet, but I’ll get there soon. I just have to jump right in… and hopefully get to the right destination!
Mei-ing has just arrived in Ghana, narrowly missing a massive Chinese New Year feast with the family back home in Singapore, but she is exploring the cuisine of Ghana with gusto. She is working with Kiva Field Partner, Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN).