Tro Tro and Day With Eva

The plan for today has been set since last weekend. When Joe was here he set Eva and me up to hang out so that she could show me around Accra and we could become better acquainted before we both went to Kumasi. She is taking an exam, in Accra, to become more specialized in her dentistry practice in Kumasi. She was supposed to pick me up from the place I am staying, but Jennifer had to run some errands in town. We adjusted the plans and set a time to meet by Frankies on Oxford Street. Jennifer also promised to take me on the tro tro and this would be the perfect opportunity.

We dropped Koteay off at his Aunt’s house and left for the car wash. Jennifer pointed out how she really never had to bother with baby sitters. She would just call a relative and tell them she was on the way over with Koteay. Not only could she save money and time looking for a baby sitter, but also Koteay could spend time with the elders of his family. It is very sad in the U.S. and other places how old people are dumped in a home and practically forgotten about except for the few times a year, if they are lucky. I became aware of how serious this issue is when I went on my Portland Alternative Break trip. The trip was focused on poverty issues and the elderly. Part of the direct service was to assist the meals on wheels program deliver food to the elderly that stayed in their own place. On most days the meals on wheels drivers were the only people those elderly would see. As far as I can tell here, that doesn’t exist. At least in the Janney family, the elderly we have visited are mentally as sharp as a whip and spend a lot of time helping the people they love the most. One of the most impressive parts of Ghana is how tightly knitted the families are.

Anyway, Jennifer and I were back on the road heading to the place where she got her car washed and tuned up. She and the owner are friends, so she could leave the car with him at no charge and know it would be fixed up and kept safe. Then we set off to pick up the tro tro. Yes, these were those crazy vans that move through traffic the most aggressively, except of course for the motorcycles. Jennifer warned me to be careful because some of the tro tro were in very bad condition and the metal around the seats could cut you and make you sick. I got every immunization known to man before I left, so I’m not too worried about getting sick, but getting cut doesn’t sound fun so I would keep an eye out. As we walked up to the tro tro a young man was hanging out of the van and yelling constantly. They are called the tro tro mate. These are mostly young men who dropped out of school to make money. Remember from the demographics given by Exponential Education, that most High School (SHS) students had to drop out because they couldn’t afford their schooling. We hopped on the tro tro and it was actually pretty nice. The seats had cushions on them and as far as I could tell there wasn’t a rod sticking through my leg. As we road down the street I was entertained the whole time watching people on the streets. Then we got off to swtich tro tro, to get to Frankies. Jennifer didn’t pay until half way through the ride and just then got her change when we got off. I can already see problems with this system when I ride on my own. That’ll fill a story later I’m sure. We picked up the second tro tro, Jennifer laughed as she told me that this was one of the bad ones. I looked around the inside and saw a lot of graffiti. There was no rear view mirror next to the driver, so I guess people to advantage of that. I’m still not sure how they could get away with it.

We got off at Frankies and Jennifer left me there to wait for Eva. I didn’t bring a phone because I didn’t want to be any more of a target then I already was. Jennifer wrote down her number and told me that I could walk up to a phone stand and ask to use their phone for a few Cedis to call her if I got in trouble. Eva came and we walked around Oxford Street. This is the street I mentioned earlier that was very touristy. There were vendors everywhere and they loved to see Obronis because they knew they had money and were there to spend it. As I walked down the street it was like I had money stapled to my forehead. Every vendor, sometimes four at a time, would stop to try to sell me their belts or glasses. They were very pushy, but none of them were rude to me. Then Eva had a man make me a bracelet with my name on it. As he was making the bracelet, there was another vendor that came out to the street to sell me his posters. They looked interesting, but Jennifer told me if I wanted anything there, I could get it in other parts of town for much cheaper and probably better quality and authenticity. I thought that since we were waiting any way, why not hear this guys schpeal. He started his price at 45 Cedis for one poster. He asked me if that was a good price and I just stared at him. He then turned up the heat and started bringing out posters from the back and spreading them on the ground. He moved down to the next price and I still just stood there, now with a smile on my face, and just kept staring at him. That went on for about 10 minutes and by the time the bracelet was done, he was offering me the poster for 20 Cedis. That’s only $10. Pretty good price, but I bet I could have gotten it for 7 or 8. I really wasn’t interested in holding the poster so I thanked him for his presentation and left. I think I know how I need to negotiate when it comes time. When I start to get a better handle of Twi, that will let the vendors know that they can’t play the same games with me as they do with most tourists. On our way back down the street Jennifer bought me a fresh coconut with the top cut off. I drank the whole thing very fast and it was delicious. It wasn’t even comparable to those terrible coconut drinks in the bottles you see at the grocery store. It was a hot day and when we were waiting for him to prepare the drink, one of the coconuts in front of us exploded and covered Eva and me in juice. I thought it was hilarious, Eva not so much.

Eva and I drove around town and got to know each other much better. I met her brother and Uncle when we got dinner later. She told me that we were sitting a few tables away from the Mayor of Kumasi. Apparently he is very aware of his power and presents himself that way. I don’t think it would be worth my time to meet him. He was more interested in other powerful people that could also help him. The King of Kumasi was the person greatly invested in the people and interested in meeting anyone there to help improve his community. I have been told that I need to be prepared when I meet him. Apparently I shouldn’t look at him but need to talk to his translator, *mumble mumble*, or *mumble mumble mumble*. Or I will die! Ha, sorry bad family joke.

Eva and I were talking about my perception of Ghana and how life here compared to other places. Before when I went through the traffic, I thought it was fun to see the madness. She really put it into perspective for me from a person who has to face that everyday. The traffic is probably the worst thing about Ghana that I’ve experienced so far. It takes a long time to get anywhere and it is very dangerous. Everyone plays a game of chicken, at every location traffic crosses. People will literally drive to get in front of you with nothing to lose. You just have to know that they are being aggressive and will most likely stop a few inches away from your car if you don’t hesitate. If you do hesitate they will not stop. What if both drivers have the intention to intimidate each other? Well we saw that in front of us and people would continually speed up and stop to avoid colliding, until they got into position. That doesn’t even take into account the people walking in between that traffic to sell good and the motorcycles that fly between the cars either on the white line or swerving between the cars to the other lane. Many times that night I saw that happening with the motorcycles swerving between cars, but heading the opposite direction of traffic. This is basically what would happen if the police force in LA was on strike and you were on the 405 and 101 intersection at the 6 PM rush hour traffic. She didn’t know why the laws weren’t enforced. We mused that it might be the lack of police infrastructure or the corruption. Most of the times the police pull you over to get a bribe, not to enforce anything serious. I have a feeling this is rooted in the same problem that keeps the growth and other foundational infrastructure from improving as rapidly as the imported technology, the hotels and large fancy houses, and shopping malls. Not that those things are bad, but they seem to be taking precedence over more of the basic needs of the community. If people had an easier and safer way of traveling, they might be more inclined to spend money at the shop across town. Well it’s something I will keep in mind and bring up to different people.

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