The Long Bus Ride to Freedom
Today I will talk about transport, a subject very real to PCVs and at the front of my mind as I sit here on the curb waiting for a bus to come sometime within the next hour.
During training, PCSA did something new with my group. Instead of arranging transport to and from class, they encouraged those of us too far to walk to take public taxis, which they reimbursed us for lately. When you think of a taxi, you think of a cab, sometimes yellow, that will come when you call it and take you where ask it to. It’s very different here. The taxis here, called kombis or some variation of that, are typically all white vans certified to carry 14 passengers seated and 0 standing. They are in varying states of repair and the drivers will personalize them with stickers, sometimes political, sometimes worryingly drug or alcohol related, sometimes dadaist. I’m looking at one right now that says “EMPTY PRIDE” above the windshield.
It’s a good thing that they gave us some experience riding these things, because they really aren’t designed for tourists, or anyone who hasn’t been riding them their whole lives. I’ve learned that it’s better to catch one as it’s going rather than at a taxi rank, because they typically leave when they’re full or beyond, which can take a long time and it isn’t a pleasant wait under the African sun. And if you back out, you risk offending the driver.
So once you’re crammed in one and on the road, the next mystery is when to pay (you remembered to ask how much before you got on, right?). This always varies but it’s something the local Africans seem to have a sense for. I’ve tried to pass my fare up too early only to have it passed back.
Buses are a little different. Taxis have the relative freedom to leave when they want and they might even come to get you in some places if you call them, but buses are more rigid in their route and times. This route isn’t posted anywhere so it’s something else you’re supposed to just know. Just recently I missed my bus because it leaves my village in a different direction on certain days of the week, and it didn’t pass my stop at all. This is the kind of thing it would be nice if people told me!
The buses are commonly used by people going too and from work. As such, there may not be room for a visitor like me, at least not sitting room. That’s okay, though, because people in the seats will cheerfully help you tie your shopping bags shut so everything doesn’t spill during the long ride ahead.
One other interesting thing is all the stuff they sell at stops. People will hop on with random stuff like batteries and socks and airtime. You can often find good produce just by waiting for a taxi.