“Are Tro-tros those chocolate-covered biscuit things?” someone once asked me when I told them the title of my first book.
“Er, no. I believe that you’re thinking of Tim Tams,” I replied.
It wasn’t odd that they should ask; few people have ever heard of tro-tros. So why would I name my book after them?
The four months that I spent in West Africa in 2001, armed with only a backpack and a boisterous sense of adventure, had an extremely heavy emphasis on getting around. I traversed almost 7,000 kilometers (more than 4,000 miles) using anything that moved—buses, pickup trucks, bush taxis, mopeds, bull-drawn carriages, and last but not least, tro-tros (which, by the way, is the Ghanaian term for a shared minibus taxi).
I spent heaps of time in tro-tros and other such vehicles during my escapades; they figured largely into my many memorable experiences. Most transport was infrequent and unreliable, and I would sometimes find myself on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere, the black of night erasing everything from view. Given that things like tire lug nuts, windshield wipers, and latching doors were mostly optional, it is no small miracle that I survived to tell the tale. But, oh, what tales there were to tell!
As I made my way through Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso and Togo, I had access to something that I’d never been able to use on any of my previous trips to Africa – the Internet. No longer was I completely out of touch for five or six weeks at a time. I sent missives from internet cafés all over the region, and my friends and family were able to traipse along right beside me from country to country.
Those emails eventually formed the basis for the book—I put them all in, unedited! While a somewhat unorthodox presentation, I did it because their raw immediacy quickly transports readers so that they’re right there, feeling the highs, the lows and everything in between that comes whilst romping around in some of the most untraveled places on earth.
When I returned home and had some time to reflect upon all that I had seen, I wrote stories, and they made up the other half of the book. The goal was bigger than to share my love affair with Africa; I firmly believe that the more we know about each other—the funny bits, the human bits— the more we will strive to ensure each other’s long-term peace, health and prosperity. Call me starry-eyed. I’m okay with that.
Tro-tros and Potholes, West Africa: Solo was self-published in its print version in my home country of Canada in 2003, just eight weeks before I came to live in the United States with my new husband. It was launched in the U.S. in March, 2004. I had a fabulous time telling my stories in travel bookshops and libraries around the Pacific Northwest, and then, as books do, it moved off the shelf and to the recesses of my brain. At the time, e-book publishing was only a tiny blip on the radar, and never even crossed my mind.
This year, I have finally taken Tro-tros and converted it into an e-book (including the photos). I am so glad that I chose to do the formatting myself. Not only did it give me the opportunity to fix some missed typos from the print version (d’oh!), it took me right back to West Africa—to the smells, the sounds, the scenery, and most importantly, the kaleidoscope of people. It was a hootenanny of a trip, in the most African of ways. I would love it if you chose to share the adventure with me.