Friday, June 15, 2012

BEEP! BEEP!

Had to start my blog with someone else's accounting of the taxis - I could not have written it any better!! - Bram Posthumus is a freelance correspondent and radio producer for Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

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BEEP!
Three steps out, shop’s across the street… BEEP!
…emerging from shop with baguette… BEEP!
…four steps along the street in the direction of the fruit stall on the corner… BEEP!
…six steps later on the way to same fruit stall… BEEP!
…returning from fruit stall with a few Clementines, just crossing the street to another shop to get some mineral water (which is…BEEP!…I said: which is for my coffee machine).
Swinging by the newspaper stand and there is temporary relief……home stretch with the groceries but just before getting into the door… BEEP!
This is not a car alarm constantly going off, nor is it an irritating kid playing with some obnoxious electronic device whilst keeping up with me.
Nope. It's..... the sound of Dakar’s taxis. And if there is one thing I could change about this place… BEEP!
…I would BAN these incessant short sharp hits on the claxon button.
BEEP!
When it is
BEEP!
blatantly clear that I have no
BEEP!
intention to use a taxi because I did not wave my arm or nod my head, I did not look in the direction of the driver or made any gesture at all to suggest that I was going to need a ride.
BEEP! “Taxi?”
This is quickly (and unhealthily I admit!) becoming my Dakar pet hate. Taximen: I will let you know when I intend to make use of your services, thank you. No need to BEEP!, slow down when I am trying to cross the effin’ road, flash lights, BEEP! some more. I – WILL – LET – YOU – KNOW!!!
Bloody hell.

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After 9 months we think nothing of it. We look for a taxi, flag one down but not frantically waving our hands in the air like we might in San Francisco. There is no rush or concern we won't find a taxi. Taxis are EVERYWHERE. There is a complete oversupply of them and many times they are empty. So we approach getting one - with either a glance as one slowly passes us by or we lift our arm no higher than the waist and sort of point to the ground to get their attention.  

Upon our first few weeks back in August we probably  looked more like deers caught up in headlights regarding the nature of the transport process. We were in a mental state of high arousal caused by anxiety, fear, panic, surprise and confusion by the nature of it all - the honking to get your attention, the pre-negotiation before entering the vehicle, our lack of orientation and  the complete disrepair of the taxi. In the beginning we were sure targets for major price gouging but now we are masters of the game.

After we started getting into these taxi/car/vehicles (are they even allowed to be called that?) I started to take notice of the sad state of affairs.
 

It's a guarantee the taxi will have a broken windshield  - with an ever growing spider web of cracks. One day I asked a driver (not of the vehicle above) how he got his crack. He told me a soccer ball from kids playing in the street. Part of me wanted to believe that his story had some validity. 

Along with the windshield you will come across the following - a dangling side view mirror,  exposed wires - no need to put the key in the ignition I guess, doors that don't really close, missing locks, missing radio speakers (which can be a blessing sometimes),  missing or broken door handles, missing window cranks , or window visors held up by safety pins. Oh yeah then there's the rear view mirror held on by wire and rubber bands and in some cases there isn't one at all. Manning reminds me when we realize that it is missing - it's okay - the side mirrors are there (usually). I'm not so sure about this but by then we're already in the taxi and on our way.  I've never done a real check but I wonder if it's either the side mirrors OR the rear view that is 'in tact' but not both. That would be asking too much.




















In some cases but it is so so rare - we'll come upon a taxi with seat belts.  And in the photo below, I've only proven that in some "newer" taxis they do exist.


One other thing that did catch my eye which I've found rather humorous and ironic is that in the front and or back seats there is this velour kind of upholstery that is covering the seat. And on it are the words "Good Luck". I'm not sure what to think.


Other taxi features include displaying a photo of the marabout of their Muslim brotherhood, or hanging gri-gris, or amulets, that taxis drivers attach to their back bumpers.  Many times a cow's tail. Accident protection insurance perhaps?


 

I'm not so sure because one day I was heading to La Pouponnière and my taxi man got into a little collision. I never did confirm his gri-gri status.  I was in the back seat and after each car stopped at their intersection even though there are no stop signs it wasn't clear how the 'right of way' works here so I kind of braced myself.  I could tell what was about to happen and thankfully no one was hurt. At first I did not know what to do. So I waited in the taxi then got out and waited at the corner - wondering if the police come? insurance numbers are exchanged? a witness report?  The driver of the SUV went off somewhere for a moment.  Taxi man stood around and said I need not wait, so at this point I just paid him a partial fair (I mean he never did get me to my final destination) yet I was able to walk the rest of the way since we were  3 blocks shy of where I needed to be. 


The upside to taking a taxi is that it gives us an additional amount of time to learn more about the Senegalese people around us.  We have our 'routine' set of questions for them - where do they live? Where were they born?  Do they have a family? kids? how old? who were they going to vote for? and what musicians do they like? It's not long before you are in a short but sweet conversation. In the last 3 months or so we started expanding our horizons by testing our Wolof skills.  We consider it an opportunity to get in a short lesson and a good laugh because it takes a number of times for the driver to repeat the word or phrase we are trying to learn but they help us with much delight.

With regards  the topic of Senegalese singers, one driver had to show us what he had folded up in his glove box. Ismaël Lô - YEAH BABY!



Now that I've mentioned all the "beauty marks" about the taxis - I want to cover that  "pre-nuptial" agreement you come to before opening the door and getting in. Once you flag your man down, you give them your destination and price. We of course now have the neighborhoods figured out in terms of where we are going so we know we'll always be between 1,000 - 2,500 cfa. And for us anything less than 1,000 is normally walking distance - and we are okay with walking. Maybe it's more like darting around objects but it's one way to learn the city!  The way it works is you give the taxi man  a price. They turn you down. And give you their price. You laugh at their price. You repeat your price. They repeat their price. Then you do it again. Then on occasion we either send in the troupes (that would be Parker or Addison) and the deal is done. Or we start to walk away and are waved back. And who cares if you have to walk away because guess what - there's another taxi waiting since the first taxi is blocking all others behind it! With that a final price repeat, open door, slide in, off we go.

I admit I may kind of miss this when we return to Berkeley - slightly - but then again I will get to ride my bike!!



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