Yellow is definitely my color of choice. So I felt like sunshine on the day I wore my bright yellow top and long black skirt. That was until I bumped into a joker-colleague who asked me if I would transport him home. Touché! I guess I really did look like Dakar’s yellow and black taxis. 🙂
I haven’t had a car in the one year I have been here. I choose to be chauffeur driven…or more precisely taxi-driven. My other options would be buses (but my Kenyan post-michuki-rules self is not accustomed to standing and smelling others armpits as I hold on to the rail for balance – I think there are like ten seats on the bus!) or car-rapides (equivalent to our face-me matatus except they really were former ambulances that now have their windows and back door taken out to improve the air circulation).
When using taxis there is never a dull moment, a taxi ride into town is never just a ride into town. In a Dakar taxi there’s always something up…always!!
For starters, there are the taxi-men. I hear there are some female taxi-drivers but I still haven’t met any. There are quite a variety, derived from almost every neighboring nation and of every age-group. From the talkative ones that can’t stop telling you about themselves to the sore-tempered ones that could almost give you a beating for making them take one false turn. Seriously. I have witnessed several instances of irritable drivers getting out of their cars in the middle of the road to punch another driver in the face. This is West Africa; emotions, happy or sad, are often worn on sleeves, so to say.
Then there’s the taxis themselves, mostly jalopies – old, outdated, barely-alive automobiles. But don’t think that age will give you a better price. Taxis charge the same price, new or old. Dakar’s taxis are quite inexpensive actually; costs range between 700 CFA (about 140Ksh) and 1500CFA (270ksh) to go almost anywhere in the city. Well, it makes sense that they are cheap since Dakar is an island, so you are never farther than 6km from your destination.
That’s not all. Taxis may not have seat-belts, the door-knobs may not work, but they will ALL have a radio, with external speakers placed at the back, right beside the passengers’ ears’. I always suppose this is to allow the Koranic prayers, which they are almost always listening to, to blast most effectively into the passengers’ ears’ putting the fear of God and of complaining in them. Not fun. I usually pretend I am making a phone call to force them to lower the volume. What’s more the door behind the driver is always jarred shut, to prevent people randomly jumping out of the cabs and onto moving traffic (nope, no quick get-away for me 🙂 ).
Another thing Dakar’s taxi-drivers’ don’t believe in, is slowing down at bumps. In fact, when they see a road bump ahead of them, they are more likely to increase their speed. I guess ‘let’s just get over the discomfort’ is their strategy. Well, thank God the taxis never go faster than 40km/h.
I find that taxi-drivers’ personality often match their taxis. If he is jovial and friendly, there will likely be some equally enjoyable music playing from his radio. If he is clean and well-dressed, his taxi will also be neat and perhaps even smell good. If he is older and mean-looking, he is probably going to charge you a higher price. I have learned to watch their faces very closely before I get in.
Living in a foreign country, there are just so many factors up-in-the-air when taking a taxi. Like how long will you have to bake in the sun as you wave down one taxi after another in search of a fare-price (I am after all Kiuk, meaning I don’t like getting duped). Then there’s hoping that the driver speaks good enough french for you to communicate your destination. Most taxi-drivers are not literate and thus often only speak wolof. Having a wolof-speaking travel companion is always quite handy. In general, I find that taxi drivers here are very kind and often go out of their way to help one find their desired destination.
Now when you use a taxi in Dakar one must be prepared for anything. And I mean anything.
I once got into the backseat of a taxi and sat on some fishy smelling stuff. Yap, its previous occupant must have been transporting fish and the driver did not feel the need to clean it up. I had to turn around and go home to change; my pants still reeked of fish after several washings. I am now very careful to check that the seat is clean and dry before I hop in.
I have a friend who swears he caught a skin disease from leaning his head on a taxi’s head-rest.
And what about the time the front wheel came off while we were still en-route. I was on the front seat when the car suddenly slumped and came to a screeching halt. I felt my feet hit the ground and looked out to see a tyre-wheel rolling away. A couple of hours later, my heart was still beating at record speed. Let’s just hope that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
So yesterday it was with sigh of relief that I finally got into the 4th taxi I waved down and begun the journey to Liberte 6. I’m always a bit uncomfortable whenever I head out to a new place. Uncomfortable is not the right word, it’s more like adventure anxiety. Well, it was not long before the taxi-man begun declaring his undying love, literally. In a country where men can have up to 4 wives, this happens to me at least once a month. And I hate it, sooooo uncomfortable; I have to spend the rest of the ride trying not to be impolite. (It’s the epitome of rude to hit on a customer, especially when in a moving vehicle where there are no escape options). And the questions begun, where am I from, can I take him with me to Kenya, what am I doing in Dakar, when am I free, can he buy me dinner….and on and on they go, while I am desperately wishing that we will just get there. Over time I have gained some useful taxi-man handling skills.
In such instances the conversation can go one of two ways. I ask him about his first wife (they always have a first wife) and what she thinks about getting a second wife and he will then get distracted and start telling me about his family. It’s a simple strategy, people enjoy talking about themselves. When that doesn’t work, meaning that he doesn’t have a first wife or he gladly declares that he will divorce her for monogamous me, I go for option two. I explain that we do not need to make plans; If God wills it, He will cause us to meet again. ‘Alhamdoulillah’ – thanks be to Allah is what they say here. It is a common phrase that follows after everything…after a greeting, after burping…and it basically acknowledges that everything that happens is at the bidding of God. Which is a great way to ask someone to stop forcing things because thanks be to God (Yahweh-the Lord Almighty), I do not have to resort to option three, which I shall explain another day.
So you see using Dakar’s taxis may not be as simple as you may have thought, but it sure is an open door to endless adventure.
Song of the Week
This week i am sharing one of the most beautiful sounds i have heard all week. Its by Richard Bona, a fantastic Cameroonian Jazz artist. Enjoy.
Disclaimer – This blog post is intended to present a humorous-jocular view of Dakar’s taxi; the religious and cultural assertions were not intended to slight, demean or disrespect anyone. Do see the lighter side :-).