The Mate at the Door
by Sean Gabriel
All those who've used a ramshackle tro-tro (the ubiquitous private vans that substitute for a public bus network) to get around town cheaply know it's a two-man operation - a driver at the wheel and a mate at the door. Particularly for commuter routes within the city, the high-energy dance of the tro mate is a ridiculous combination of hollering and fingering one's destination out the window, slapping the van to make sudden stops, stretching for change over rows of shoulder-to-shoulder bodies, and heaving a dilapidated side door back and forth, for hours on end.
My daily commute would take me from the Osu neighborhood up to East Legon and back again, and through the many journeys and transfers I came to recognize my favorite buses by the marvelous slogans adorning their backs ("no hurry no worry"). Though I don't know how much say the mates have in decorating their vans, I soon came to enjoy the experience of confusing them as an eager “obruni” (the local word for a foreigner) by trying to flag them down - most expats prefer to get around by taxi for the convenience and comfort. Indeed, squishing in my 6'4" frame into an empty seat was never easy! While some days’ commutes proved better than others, by in large I've been impressed by how the mates can run such a tight ship despite their hectic jobs. They usually know where everyone's stopping, but critically, they always know who's yet to pay!
I'm grateful to the many mates and ladies of Accra for brightening my daily life in the city, and for all their good humor as we shared in the traffic, dumsor, and sweltering heat together. Thanks for doing what you do and for keeping Ghana friendly!
About the author: Sean is a software product manager currently living in London, and a former Technical Fellow at the MEST Incubator in Accra. His encounters with fruit ladies even inspired him to lead a team hackathon around this idea for Accra's inaugural Global Game Jam in 2015. You can find him on Twitter @skaulana or his personal site kaulana.com.