Tro Tros: Africa’s Transcripts to Trusting Life’s Process

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An audio essay on an unexpected journey, familiar strangers, and learning to trust life's process on a Tro Tro ride.
Danica Samuel
Photography: Moustafa Cheaiteli, Chika Okoli

In every African country I’ve visited, the footsteps I’ve taken have always felt fulfilling. Each path, each journey has felt pure, complete, and rewarding. The experiences gained have filled me with confidence. The minute I landed in Rwanda I received several messages in my family group chat wondering if I was OK. I responded without hesitation: “I’m fine. I’m at home.”

Home is Africa to me. Ghana, Egypt, Rwanda, South Africa, Côte D’Ivoire, Kenya and more are some of the many places I’ve landed, took a deep breath and felt my soul was at ease.

Home represents a place to learn. It’s a haven to fail and fail fast. It’s a cocoon that fosters intuition and builds character. I’ve learned 1001 lessons throughout the continent, whether on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro or in the Volcano Mountains. Where I’ve learned the most, though, is on my Tro Tro rides.

Moustafa Cheaiteli
"The driver and the route are interconnected —fast, slow, bumpy, or smooth — they lead me to my destination."

The Tro Tro minibuses open western eyes to life in underdeveloped neighbourhoods across the globe. But, that’s actually only 10 percent of what makes Tro Tros so significant. What’s most profound about this form of transportation is that it always guarantees a similar experience that is also unique to the person riding.

The name Tro Tro originates in Ghana and West African regions. Like the Hausa tribe, Tro Tros are found throughout the entire continent of Africa. In Côte D’Ivoire, they call this transportation Woro Woro, in Sierra Leone, Poda Poda. Notice something yet? In Kenya, it’s called a Matatu, in Tanzania Dala Dala. Beyond the continent, in the Caribbean, Trinidadians say maxi taxi. Across the African diaspora there is a commonality in the naming of Tro Tros.

For me, a Tro Tro ride is a reflection of me navigating my place on earth.

There are the conductors who lean with their bodies halfway out the minibus windows, calling people from various neighbourhoods to no longer rely on their feet, but to take a ride. The driver and the route are interconnected —fast, slow, bumpy, or smooth — they lead me to my destination.

The main junctions are chaotic pickup stops representing some of the problematic crossroads in life. Here, I look for a sign to set me on the right path home.

Lastly, the other passengers represent the impact that people have on my life, whether big or small. Some stay with me for just a moment, others for the entire journey to my destination.

Chika Okoli, FABA

Intuition in the Dark

My journey to Assinie from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire feels a lot like a relay race to get to the beautiful Atlantic Ocean coastal beach in West Africa. There are a series of Woro Woros and car rides appointed by community leaders. The experience from each mode of transportation to the next is like playing broken telephone. My Ivorian friend that met me at the first junction helps translate my journey. I am not fluent in French. After, I constantly check in with the conductors to make sure that the first message is still remembered.  Every new seat I sit in, I question my whereabouts.

As the sun sets en route back to Abidjan, the angst grows in my stomach. The first ride in the dusk reminds me of stepping into womanhood. A nervous feeling mixed in with trying to gather all the steps to get back home. My instructions to get home consist of backtracking the trip I took to get there in the first place, my beginner French and Google Translate with a 10 percent phone battery. I had to tap into my woman’s earthly intuition and have conversations with myself. Danica, trust the process.

Public transportation culture in many places in Africa is overall warm and respectful. I always acknowledge the aunties who squeeze in the seats next to me on Tros Tros— I call this honouring our ancestors. These elders reflect those who came before me; they remind me of the importance of standing on their shoulders to see clearly ahead to my destination. They bring comfort in times of uncertainty.

After the first car takes us to Bonoua, I exit into the darkness and chaos of the main junction. I long for something familiar in sight. I start to second guess. Did I get out too soon?

Everything is dark and noisy. I can feel my heart racing a million miles per hour. Bright lights of Woro Woro and conductors yelling unknown destinations in French make me anxious. Out of fear, I have a fleeting thought to just board one to get out of where I am.

Moustafa Cheaiteli

Just as my phone dies, a car pulls up with the aunty who sat beside me on the previous ride. She yells at me in French. I tap deep into my mother’s Creole vocabulary, recalling her disciplining me as a child. I try to decipher what the aunty is telling me. She wants to let me know that I should be in her car. I jump in. With a deep sigh, I say, “Merci beaucoup."

That ride I can’t make conversation. I close my eyes and try to tap into the energy aunty is giving me. Language barriers among our brothers, sisters and elders are just roadblocks to divine intuitions. When I get to the next stop, I wave to the aunty. The uncle that was also in the car ride with me directs me to an office and pays for my ticket. He tells me to get on the same bus as him.

I didn’t see him discuss anything with the aunty in our previous ride, but I trust this man. He sits away from me on the trip and nods to me, assuring that I am safe until my arrival home. He shakes his head no when I look back, wondering if it is my stop yet, and gives me a thumbs up when it is.

This is what it feels like to trust my gut. Truly. I am more in tune with life’s process. Yes, I, Danica Samuel, can confidently navigate my way home.

Moustafa Cheaiteli

Choosing your Light

Our car breaks down just past the Côte d’Ivoire border. Four women, I included, stand roadside waiting for the driver to come back from the mechanic. The sun starts to beam brighter as it is ready to set. All we can think of are the Cedis spent to take us home. Do we leave and waste the remaining deposit? Stay and get our money’s worth? Sometimes a loss is necessary. When egos insists on taking the easy way out, it requires digging deep. There is no such thing as a work-free transformation to get to the destination.

The Alpha in me takes over. I make the decision for all of us. It is time to take an uncomfortable, three-hour route home to Accra, Ghana. I lead the other passengers with me — my pregnant friend and two Ivorian women. Time to pay forward what the aunty did for me in Assinie and help my Ivorian sisters get to their next destination.

The three-hour ride turns into five instead. My pregnant friend becomes restless by the hour. The look of uncertainty increases on the faces of the Ivorian women as darkness falls. We are sitting tightly next to strangers, in broken seats, travelling along dark roads. We sit uncomfortably to avoid accidentally touching male passengers in the dark. The darkness forces discomfort and instinctual doubt. The type of doubt instilled at a young age through folklore and storytelling that deems night and dark synonymous with fear.

Still, I rest. Through resting around strangers, I set the tone of safety for my friend, who lays on me and the Ivorian women. Having rode in Tro Tros across the continent, I have been here before. Many times. When I wake, all four (including the baby) are sound asleep.

I know the decision to take the Tro Tro back home will present difficulties. The journey home is always filled with pit stops and roadblocks. That night, our driver and conductor stay at junctions for up to 30 minutes, circling the area looking for customers. It turns out they hadn’t made enough money for the day.

Chika Okoli, FABA

Each time we wake from our slumber, we watch one another in irritation and stare out the window — hungry, restless and impatient. We look for food, but the aunties carrying food on their heads are a reflection of a hard day’s work. Mainly loaves of bread and cold eggs with sauce.

After the fifth stop, we are the only people on the Tro Tro. We insist and plead for the driver to continue on without any stops. Our irritation evident in our voices. These constant stops that make the journey home longer reflect the stages in life when our psyche is fighting a force for us to comply with whatever anyone else wishes. How can we fulfill our life’s process if we are stopping to only consider others around us? We’ll never get to where we’re going.

The thought of speaking up amongst strangers and towards those in control might cause us to be exiled. But remaining unhappy in silence, waiting for the driver and conductor to fill their seats causes us to be exiled from ourselves. The choice is clear.

Late that night, after arriving at our final destination in Accra, eating a meal and receiving a “we arrived” text from the Ivorian women, it dawns on me that the theme of my ride this time was choosing myself above all. Entering into a conversation between my gut (guardian angels) and my mind ensures I can make decisions that steer me to my destination.

Tro Tros are simply the engines that get me to the destination. My deep reflections across Africa during all my minibus rides teach me how to become the healthiest version of myself. Each journey allows me to connect to my environment. My encounters with people on each ride show me that life’s process is not easy. It is meant to be navigated. I now know with each ride I can bask in the moonlight, tune my ears, rest, and peacefully arrive at my destination — home.

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Danica Samuel is a Writer, Creator and Storyteller. She has travelled mainly across Africa, creating multimedia content. She is passionate about writing for independent publications and incorporating online interactivity in her storytelling. Her platform Pounding Fufu is a digital and audible experience of life stories across the globe. Currently, she is a Journalist at The Toronto Star.