As you enter the station, you’ll notice that it can be anything from a moderately organized yard with signs providing destinations and coordinated traffic, to the side of the road in Karaga town. Firstly, identify what a lorry is. Get past the heavy dagbani accent and recognize that weird british slang word, and there you have it! A car! Except this is no ordinary car, as they can range between a large van to a full-on charter bus size. They can also be called buses, or tro-tros. One thing is common though, their propensity to break down in many many ways. So, step number one:
- Choose a lorry that looks safe. This, obviously, is a relative term.
- Check to see that the lorry is going to the place you want to go. Check with a few people just to make sure.
- If you are there two hours early, which you should be, you need to buy a bag of pure water sachets, or a loaf of bread, or have an extra scarf handy that you use to save your seat. Then you are free to go for the next hour or so.
- Return early enough to claim your seat so that it is not taken by someone else. Seat saves have a time limit, because the ultimate aim of the lorry driver is to get the bus full as quickly as possible.
- Arrange yourself to be as comfortable as possible with the limited space available. This means the drinks carton should be well-positioned under your feet, the backpack you have brought is stowed under the seat, your extra bag and 4 loaves of bread are stacked on your lap, and you are wedged in the row with the other 5 passengers. Have your hands free to pass babies or bags if necessary
- Settle in for the bumpy, dusty ride. Sleep is generally a good choice, but care must be taken to not punch yourself in the face as you crest a pothole.
- Make limited conversation with your seat-mate. Dagbani gets barely past the greetings. English can be sustained somewhat longer, depending on their interest level/your level of sleep deprivation.
- If yours is the last stop, no care needs to be taken to make sure you get out at the right place. Everyone will stand up to get out, like in an airplane, but in fact they will efficiently and ruthlessly push out of the lorry. You are safer to sit, and wait, though if you are prepared it isn’t hard to rush with the flow.
- If yours is not the last stop, you should in fact be prepared to force yourself out of the lorry, otherwise boarding passengers will box you in. This is where efficiency completely breaks down, as the incentive to wait for people to exist is not outweighed by the incentive to snag a seat. Fight for your right to exit!
- Be thankful for your safe delivery.
There should reasonably be an extra step added in here, but thankfully I have not had to experience it yet. The consistency of repairs needing to be made while in transit is evident, and I’ve heard many expressions of thanks to god that my lorry trips have not needed them. However, this past weekend we travelled to Damongo, where the Mole National Game Park is situated. On the way back, somehow the clutch was completely destroyed, so we had some interesting times getting the lorry started after stopping at a checkpoint or in a town. As we closed the back sliding door of this large van, it fell off, so the driver was able to cleverly wedge it in, effectively shutting us in as we discovered the door would not open after this. No delays because of this though, we trucked on, and as we were entering the outskirts of Tamale, the car sputtered and died. In the middle of the road, complete with milling sheep and goats.
We were quite the sight, 9 white people stuck in the back of a van in the middle of the road, as the taxis skirted around us and the driver and our two front-seat soulemingas tried to solicit help to push the car off the road. Debate ensued about the ability to repair the lorry, taxis into town, and the approaching darkness. We eventually climbed over the front seats, with varying levels of grace, and abandoned our poor lorry driver to fix his van as we took an assortment of taxis into town. We were all very thankful that we only encountered dire problems just as we were within reach of alternate transportation.