Thursday, 15 December 2011

Taxi STOP



Becoming acquainted with the public transport system of any new city is always a bit of an adventure, and I am pleased to say that it is one that I am very much enjoying here! Each day I leave my flat for my language lessons with a degree of uncertainty, but to a greater degree, curiosity, as to what this next taxi ride will hold. Unmistakeable in bright yellow, the taxis which are obviously a remnant of French colonisation, whizz, swerve, bump, or rattle along their set route linking various points around the city to the Grand Market at the centre of town. A taxi is obtained by standing along the route and casually pointing a finger out at nothing in particular. This discrete action, that requires minimal effort and thus conserving much needed energy to sweat in the heat, is rarely missed by the closest taxi man, who peers expectantly through his cracked window screen for his next customer. Having identified the inconspicuous finger, the taxi man darts across the road, nearby cyclists, motorbikes, pedestrians, dogs retreating hastily from his path, usually just in time. Now the fun begins… how many can you squeeze into one small taxi??!  Unlike England, a taxi is not for one person or group alone, oh no. A taxi is for as many people as you can possibly squeeze in, and then, when the door can’t shut behind you, a twist, shuffle and final shove later, the door clicks shut and off we go. Ten people has been my maximum: 3 adults and 1 child in the front, 4 adults and 2 children in the back. It was a cosy experience and to be fair, many of the taxi men make the effort to ensure their customers are as comfortable as possible by providing a pillow on the handbrake, on which the middle person in the front is expected to sit on, thus allowing 2 front seat passengers.

Conversation in the taxi can range from a muttered greeting alone, to full on debates, laughter and even singing! And this is one of the many reasons why I like the taxis- you never know who your fellow travellers are going to be and quite how they will respond to seeing a ‘Nasara’ (white person) in their taxi rather than the usual 4x4s. And if conversation is limited, there is always the internal d├ęcor to peruse- patchwork upholstery, a lack of working dials in the dash board, door handles replaced with twisted wire are common place, and even on occasions, the lack of a floor!! Yet somehow, these decrepit vehicles keep going, even the complete absence of an ignition didn’t stop one taxi, but meant that every time we stopped the driver rummaged around under the steering wheel, before we lurched forward and continued on our way. Come to think of it, that was also the same taxi that made an awful grinding noise every time the driver changed gears and as we rounded a roundabout the back door flew wide open, narrowly missing a nearby motorcyclist. Thankfully on this occasion there were only 3 of us in the back so the lady sitting next to the door did not go flying out with it!

Once you’ve reached your location, you simply give the order, “Taxi STOP”, pay your 20p, uncurl yourself from pile of bodies and go on your way. Easy, entertaining and never the same experience twice… I wonder what adventures my taxi rides tomorrow will bring?

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