Well more than halfway through the program, we have racked up quite the mileage on tro tro’s and taxis traveled. What once was a chaotic and near-death experience of driving through Kumasi’s mid-morning traffic, is now a familiar and comforting bustle and chatter as I settle into the pace and life of the city.
This blog post is a shout out to the mates on the tro tros. Most of the mates I have seen are men, I have seen very few women, but they do exist! They all presumably vary in age and size, but what never fails to remain constant is the way they call out bus stops, “Abrepo Junction, School Junction 1 Cedi 40 pesewas!”
However, Mates do so much more than just yell out bus stops or collect your fare. I have watched mates carry children as their mother’s boarded the tro tro or gathered their things. One mate instinctively hovered his hand over a baby’s head as their mother boarded, making sure the baby did not hit their head on the frame of the tro tro. Mates are quick to help vendors with their loads and items as they board on and exit the tro tro and help mostly women with their purses and bags. They masterfully maximize space on the buses, even it means giving up their own city. While on the tro tro, mates often serve as the middle-man as they carry out purchases for the riders, whether it is a water sachet or a spring roll, I have seen a handful of goods being bought. This being said, the street vendors who will chase down your tro tro or taxi just to return your change or give you your food also deserve a shout out.
The various jobs carried out by the mates demonstrates the level of intimacy and care that is prevalent in Ghanaian culture. I am not entirely sure what the job description of a tro tro mate entails, but I am always pleasantly surprised by the mates quick ability to help anyone on or off the tro tro and the care that they demonstrate while doing so.
This is not to romanticize the lives and jobs of mates and drivers , or vendors for that matter. My observations of mates helping their customers is refreshing and heart-warming. However, further contextualization of mates and their labor is needed. These observations beg several questions, such as: Are mates compensated for this extra labor? Or is this labor a part of the job expectations for mates?
This blog post is a shout out to what can easily become unappreciated labor of tro tro mates, drivers, and vendors!
Updates: On the last day of work, the tro tro driver carried an older woman onto the tro tro because she had difficulty getting on by herself.
I have also included a link to case study on the “Livelihood and Survival Strategies” of tro tro mates in Accra conducted by a student from University of Ghana. In their dissertation, Patience Buckman provides the reader with a sample of the socioeconomic backgrounds and motivations of tro tro mates, specifically what motivates to enter the tro tro business and to continue. Buckman also elaborates on the social tactics mates employ, they reference how mates assist others in boarding the tro tros, and the social dynamics between mates and passengers:
Buckman, Patience “Livelihood and Survival Strategies of Migrant Transport Apprentices. A Case Study of’Tro-tro’Mates in Accra.” PhD diss., University of Ghana, 2013.