For anyone who has ridden in a tro tro, you have encountered the personality of the infamous “mate,” the driver’s right hand man. Often, the mate is seen as a nuisance, a cheat or an arrogant brute that makes for an unpleasant riding experience.
However, there are unique traits to a mate that makes him invaluable to the tro tro riding experience. Without the mate, things can’t function properly. You see a driver without a mate is like a body without limbs: the core organs for daily function are present but the mobility and functionality of the body is severely impaired.
It is for this reason why I want to take the opportunity to appreciate the mate and list some of the characteristics that make him unique. Everybody or everything seems to be getting a day dedicated to celebrating their exploits. So today we have chosen to observe the World Trotro Mate day. I mean why not?
1. You have to be excellent at math. You see the very essence of a mate relies on this fundamental skill. A mate who is bad at math makes for very bad business. Imagine a scene where a mate can’t calculate change properly: you are left with angry passengers who feel they have been ripped off and an angry driver who realizes his profits are in jeopardy.
This combination could be fatal for all parties involved (especially the mate) if the wrong personalities get involved. Possessing the qualities of a good mathematician is only half the battle when it comes to being a mate. Oftentimes the mate must perform his skill in the midst of a hectic, constantly changing/dynamic environment.
He must calculate at top speed, divide correctly and creatively come up with combinations of change that can ensure that all passengers are satisfied. Furthermore, he must do this while simultaneously working to secure passengers and keeping track of passenger stops.
2. You need to be able to suckle your lips in a way that makes a loud whistle-like noise. Perfecting this sound takes genuine skill. It requires the ability to purse your lips, to suck in and simultaneously create a loud distinct sound that can be heard for several kilometres. It requires the ability to grab someone’s attention.
To this very day, whenever I try to make this sound, I fail miserably. I challenge anyone reading this to try this and see. I think you might be amazed by just how much concentration and effort it takes to do this.
3. You have to be able to shout the words Kaneshie, Circle and Accra with such ease that it seems practically innate. This skill is one that comes with the job- a repercussion of enunciating the same words practically a hundred times within a given work day.
Eventually, the words become jumbled- Kaneshie becomes –Kan-e, Cirlce- Circ etc. A foreigner/casual observer hearing the words for the first time may not fully understand the mate especially since the spelling of the destinations and their pronunciations are especially thwarted in the mate’s enunciation.
4. You need to have a level of confidence that borders arrogance. This is often translated by the mate’s demeanor. His gait that spells out a sort of “bad boy” swag, a carefree juxtaposition of the feet in a manner that both picks up pieces of the ground as it drags along and elevates the body, keeping it upright in an almost royal stance.
The mate’s confidence is also clearly illustrated in the way he handles his business. It translates into a “I am confident that I am always right” attitude. A mate at fault will never apologize. He justifies his actions by making your retorts sound irrelevant/futile leaving you in a position to either back down or fight until you win (which you won’t). You see even when he is wrong, he is right.
5. You need to have a pungent smell. It should be able to knock you out within 1-5 minutes depending on the proximity of his armpit or sitting position. Now though this may seem like a distasteful quality to possess, it serves an essential purpose in the life of a trotro mate.
First, it sets him apart from the other passengers. It is a badge of distinction and a sign of his status of power in the vehicle. Second, it commands attention because it is hard to ignore, especially when he is waving at you to collect your money.[social locker]
6. A mate has to be very fit because he has to chase the car. Anyone who has ever ridden a trotro knows that the driver usually gets a head start driving before the mate hops on. Without being fit, the mate would never be able to catch up and he would ultimately be left behind. The reason for doing this are multi-fold-you see the mate is busy recruiting customers as the driver revs up the engine for another long journey along the streets of the city.
Being fit also serves multiple purposes. For example, on the many occasions when the trotro fails to start, the mate serves a crucial role in pushing the vehicle. He must also be fit enough to run to the nearest petrol station when fuel gets finished on the road.
Without his athletic build, the mate would be incapable of doing this job to the best of his ability. Finally, the mate has to be able to ride the car (often for several kilometers) while standing up. While this may seem like a dangerous practice, it is very beneficial on the occasions when the mate must give up his seat for a fellow customer, a practice that is both monetarily beneficial and inherently altruistic.
7. A mate possesses a unique physical appearance- a short scruffled haircut, a t-shirt with any variety of sayings ranging from USA to “Gangsta” (you know what I mean-the broni wa wu designs of years ago that somehow seem to fit well on the body of a mate), and a pair of chale wote’s (sandals) that somehow always stay put despite his rigorous activities.
8. A mate is the ultimate “bubblegum man”/player/and an excellent salesman. He uses his charm and smooth talking to get you to board his vehicle and then chooses to dump you at any convenient location when he has received the thing he wanted all along-money!
9. A mate is a hard worker. You have got to respect the hustle of a mate. He must wake up as early as 3am to start his day. These guys, no matter how unconventional you view their job, do genuine work to earn a decent living.
There is always a back story to the rugged looking lad you see sitting or standing by the door of a trotro. Some of them take the bacon home, others use it as a means to sponsor another venture like school or becoming a sportsman and for a few others, they may just be recalcitrant teenagers who want to belong. Some of the points mentioned previously should make you realise they are among the hard workers in the country although their wage may not be commensurate. For most of these young men, being a mate is the beginning of a journey towards a more productive and fulfilling career, just like their mentors-the drivers.
In the same way, you would rise from the ground level to Supervisor to Manager to VP( Vice President) of Finance of a firm with a very plausible hierarchy system, the mate rises to Senior mate to Driver to ‘Bookman’ (station head) to GPRTU chairman.
So for those of you who belittle their drive and effort, Ill dare say the next time you encounter a mate, show some regard to him and his vocation because he is no sluggard rather you could be talking to a very ambitious person.
10. Finally, a mate is a unifier. It’s either he’s so nasty to the passengers to the point where the passengers come together to insult him or give him a beat down or he is an entertainer during the entire ride and he makes people laugh by sparking conversation. This is a key component of the tro tro experience and is often what makes our rides unforgettable