Monday, June 21, 2010

Tro-tros, Taxis, & (Ghana) Time

Public transportation here is an experience, to say the least. The taxi drivers have a special bond with each other. At the taxi stations, they take turns using signs for the tops of their cars that say where they are going. They also don't mind driving on the side of the road to cut each other off. It's really no big deal if they just give a warning honk. So, if you get a taxi at the station, you have to wait until it fills up before it will leave. If you get a shared taxi on the road, the driver will drive really slowly and honk at people until he finds enough people to fill it up. If you get a drop taxi, you have to negotiate the price, because, if you are white, they will rip you off (unless you're me and keep a list of how much it should cost to go everywhere in town...ha). The taxis are also colorfully decorated. Many of them include stickers on the back about God. My favorite so far if "For Give Me." I'm not really sure if they meant "forgive me" or if they want people to give them something. Probably the second. I've also seen a lot of taxis with golf balls stuck to the window in these suction cupped golf ball holders. Hmmmm. And don't expect to be able to open the door from the inside, because most of the door handles are broken. Perhaps the most surprising thing to me about the taxis is that a lot of them don't know how to drive a stick shift, but they do it for a living! It's an especially bumpy ride when a driver who can't use a stick shift well decides to take a "short cut" through some of the unpaved roads. Sometimes when I tell the driver where to stop he tells me that it's not where I want to go. Example: "Could you stop at the Yes F.M. junction please?" "No, you want to go to Old Site." Sometimes the drivers are frustrating, but I've also had some of my best conversations with taxi drivers (who are, incidentally, all men...I've never seen a woman taxi driver). As interesting as the taxis are, though, the tro-tros are even crazier. They are basically big vans that the drivers and their assistants cram as full of people as possible. However, if a taxi or tro-tro has to pass a police checkpoint, they will make someone get out and then walk or ride in another vehicle across the border so as not to be fined. It's kind of a surprise to see a police checkpoint for the first time. It's basically just guys in camo standing in the middle of the street with massive guns. Anyway, the last tro-tro I rode in had a hole in the floor (probably from all of the off roading). The guy who takes the money was just hanging out the side of the van...he didn't bother to slide the door closed for a few blocks. It's really amazing how fast they can go, too. The redeeming factor: it only costs like twenty cents for a twenty minute trip. So economical!

Ghanaians are not the most timely people I have ever met. Take this morning. I went to a school to teach. I had no idea what I was teaching, because the headmaster and all of the science teachers were out when I went to meet with them last week...twice. Then, I waited an hour to teach a class about respiratory disease before I had another 3 hour break. Nice. The thing is, none of the administrators know the class schedules. Before I left for the day, I made one of them take me to every class and write down the times that I would be teaching...we'll see if that works out. Anyway, since Ghanaians are not exactly punctual, I hear a lot about getting caught in traffic. Since public transportation is so crazy, they all think it's a great excuse. Except that it's never taken me more than 30 minutes to get anywhere in town. Lesson learned: I now keep a book with me at all times so I have something to do while I wait!

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