Thursday, May 8, 2008

Car? …What car?

Hissssssssssssss…whereyougoing? Hissing to get someone’s attention is considered normal here in Ghana and not rude. The question about where someone is headed often sounds like one word, which is actually my closest representation of their Twi language asking that same question. This is what we experience on any common day, walking down to an area where one can get a taxi or other transportation. We are often headed to get a “tro tro” – a cheap ride (15-20 US cents worth) that saves us about 30-45 minutes walk most days.

Everyone wants the “obruni” (foreigner) business, especially taxi drivers, thinking that anyone with white skin has money and lots of it. If we used them all the time, we’d be broke very quickly. If you need a taxi somewhere, use it early in the day. After mid afternoon, rates start to climb. After dark, you are looking at double the normal rates, unless you happen to go somewhere fairly close without getting into traffic. For a city of about 4 million people, this can be tricky, so plan well or carry enough to cover the ride home.

A nice thing about living here in Ghana is that because we live at the edge of the city, we can get around with public transportation just fine. No, we do not have a car, truck or SUV (which are actually common here, because of the road conditions, even though fuel prices here are higher than in the states!) The only times we wish we had a personal vehicle is when we want to go somewhere out of the way and bring something home.

Or when you go to a village and need a ride back. You can get there fine. But unless you ask the taxi driver to wait for you while you have your meeting & such, you’ll have to hope another vehicle will let you hitch a ride back to where you can get connected to the public transportation again.

Here there are a couple of options to get somewhere without a car. There’s always the taxi that can take you exactly where you want to go. These are the most expensive option, but then again, no car to maintain or insure. They cost about 10 times the rate of the next option. Then there’s the usually very colorful “tro tro” (or lorry) which operates much like a city bus would, except that you can get on or off one almost anywhere as long as they are going your way. This is the option we most often find the easiest and economical to take (see photo below).

If you are going to Accra “central” (downtown), then there’s the even cheaper, but possibly slower option (depending on traffic) of taking the bus. This gives you more seating room (unless it’s “rush hour”), and is cheaper than all other options, save walking (which would take a long, long time). We have taken the city bus and enjoy it. They even have some double-deckers here to enjoy the view up top.

If you are going to another town along the coast or going “up north” (northern Ghana), or even to a bordering country, then there is also the STC bus (not sure what STC stands for). It’s comparable to a service like Greyhound in the states. Their rates seem very reasonable too. They have softer seating for longer rides.

So although it might be handier to have a car, it's definitely do-able when you don't. And we get more exercise this way. =) Live lightly when it's possible. It's more interesting!

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