When you hop in a taxi here…let me re-phrase that…when you cram into a taxi here, 4 things have already happened.
- The approaching taxi driver has beeped to let you know that he is accepting fares.
- You have called out a location, price, and (if it was not obvious) the number of people.
- If he accepts, he will beep twice and pull over, but otherwise he will drive on.
- The current passengers have shuffled in their pattern. (The Taxis are hatchback Toyotas. The first passenger in an empty taxi takes the back-left seat and the second takes the back-right. The third takes the front passenger seat. The fourth pushes the person in the back-right to the middle and takes their place. The fifth pushes the person in the passenger seat onto the gearshift and takes their place. Kids go in laps and don’t count in the price or shuffle.)
What are the locations? They are large landmarks, roundabouts, intersections, and neighborhoods. Addresses are useless here as only the most major roads have names. You want to be concise when you’re on the roadside, with a large landmark that is well-known or neighborhood. Yelling “that little café up north with the blue and black awnings beside the pharmacy” will get old after the first 15 taxis pass your idiotic self by. You’re going to have to offer a hefty sum to convince a driver to wander through the neighborhoods until you find it, and maybe it’ll be closed when you get there.
I could call out (and I would of course say this in French) “Central market, 250, one place” and we have just created a verbal contract that ends when he brings me within a few blocks of the Central Market and I’ve paid him about 50 cents. The driver will choose a route that has less congestion, but will pass more people likely to need a ride in that direction. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there or how many other people are picked up or dropped off along the way, so it is in the driver’s interest to take the largest number of people in the same direction as quickly as possible. The trip ends at a certain spot where people are waiting to go other places. For convenience we’ll call this a “taxi station”, but it’s really just a busy curb. Any further distance is on foot.
If I call out a neighborhood rather than a landmark, for example “Briqueterie, 400” and hop in, we will probably have to talk details. He’ll ask me “what level” and I will have to explain what intersection or give a landmark. (There’s a restaurant I like near the Police School, so that’s a good example.)
For those of you that may think I’m being sexist with my choice of masculine pronouns, almost all taxi drivers are male. Of thousands of licensed drivers, I’ve only ever seen one female taxi driver and one female motorcycle taxi driver, and I’ve never ridden with either.
If you don’t want to share the taxi, you can call out “Course” or “Depot” along with your location, and you have just committed to about $3 for your trip (the price of renting all of the seats), but he will take you directly to your location without picking up other passengers. If there are currently other passengers, either they will get booted out or the driver may ask if some can be dropped off along the way. This is a good idea when you are in a hurry or going somewhere deep into a neighborhood where you’ll have to direct the driver.
If the driver is unable to carry me to my destination (breakdown, accident, flood, or traffic) then it is up to me how much to pay for the distance as I get out and find another way to get there.
Lastly, there are some drivers that are well-known in the missionary community and will sit in the car with your groceries while you shop. This comes out to about $6 an hour, but these drivers know the sorts of places that a foreigner might like to go.
So how do you know the neighborhoods or landmarks? Generally a friend or a vetted driver takes you there once and you memorize the name and location if you like it. Today we went to Mahima supermarket, a place that I know well, but I had forgotten the neighborhood name, so it took some discussion with the driver to come up with “Mahima, Wada”.
While the roads are familiar, I have forgotten many of the neighborhood names while I’ve been away, so I’ve got some re-learning to do. The nice thing is that if you end up in an unknown neighborhood, you don’t have to know where you are, just the name of your home location, even thought they will laugh at you if you’re on the wrong side of the road. The title of this post is my home location. To get home going south, I would say “Tropicana”, and going north, I’d say “Mvan”, and the “level” is “Office of the Baccalaureate”
I find it funny that I described all this without discussing the traffic…oh well, another time.
Bonus points for you if you realized that the titles of these posts are getting progressively geographically specific. More bonus points if you realized that I duplicated “Central Region” and forgot to change the title on the previous post until just now. Even more bonus points if you knew that the wallpaper on this blog is my neighborhood here.