Poem #41: TRƆTRƆ by Kwadwo Kwarteng

A trotro station in Ghana

I’ve been featuring one poem a week (well most weeks, anyway) since I began this blog.  Unlike my prose reading, I’ve not yet made any plans for my poetry reading.  This grabbing/reading of random poems suits me fine now.  That may change later in the year, though. There are couple of collections of poetry on my radar.  I feel a yearning for more contemporary poetry coming on.

This week’s poem is by the twenty-something Ghanaian poet, Kwadwo Kwarteng.   The poem’s title,TRƆTRƆ (pronounced trotro), refers to a mode of privately-owned public transportation in Ghana. Trotros are minibuses.  In Kenya, they are called matatus.  Trotros are really indispensable.  But they are also a menace and a  lot are unsafe.  Needless to say, a lot of Ghanaian life is lived in these minibuses.  This week, as we resumed our working lives after the holidays, the government announced a stunning 25-30% price hike in petroleum products.  The ensuing arguments, between trotro drivers and their riders, over fares hikes are reverberating loudly across the nation. Enjoy the poem!


It shivers and shakes
quivers and quakes
squeaking, creaking, shrieking.
It tumbles and rumbles,
albeit mumbles and grumbles
from passengers on thistles and brambles
with whose lives it gambles.
Going on safari,
short cut through an alley –
it takes them on a Dakar Rally.
Driver and mate
are subject to hate;
“We are late!”
is the ubiquitous state.
The mate, short of change
precariously balanced, dangling strange
engages in heated verbal exchange
with tempers rising in range.
At each stop
bodies flip-flop like hip-hop,
weary waiters wallop
to join jiggly jalopy’s lop.
Clothed in pealing paint and rust
seats coated with dust
serrated sills slicing soft skins
ripping clothes off in ribbons.
Clad on its back, spread
‘The Lord is my Shepherd’
or other words of faith to be read
by fellows with little sense in the head.
Prayers silently sail against a breakdown
right in the middle of town,
engaging demons in divine duel
lest there is sudden shortage of fuel.
Clutching valuables from that thief
nearing home, they sigh in relief
intending to make the exit brief,
shout with passion and strong belief
Bus stop!

The poem was published on One Ghana, One Voice, an online journal that promotes contemporary Ghanaian poetry. It was selected as one of the top three readers’ picks of 2010. A comment at the site describes the poet quite nicely: “Most notable [of all his qualities] is his (Kwarteng) lustful but active (and perhaps playful) use of sound. In ‘Odomankoma’s Drummer’, he used ‘pra da daa da’ to seduce his readers. The effect is even complex and intriguing in the present verse. Every sound within, beneath, and along his ‘Trotro’ voyage has a sort of character and influence.”
Note: A mate is the trotor’s driver’s assistant. He collects the money.



  1. We have similar mini buses here in Nigeria called Danfo.
    As I read the poem I was shouting yes! yes! at the beautiful descriptions of this treacherous mode of transportation.
    Love it.


  2. Makes me want get on a Trotro from Sakumono to Circle, just to experience this again. I enjoyed this poem.


    • Yes. But it difficult to play with words and paint a picture with those words and elicit an emotional response; all at the same time. Kwadwo accomplishes all that. I’ve urging him to write more;).


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