Not long ago in Nzérékoré, Guinea, West Africa, I was reminded of a lift we were given in Barnaul in the Altai district of Russia. Five years ago, Elena and her husband kindly offered to give us a ride to a bank so we could change Kazakh money to Russian roubles.
She explained in English that they had just come from the police station where they had been completing paperwork. She went on to say ‘Go ahead, get in the car. If you aren’t afraid!’
That phrase ‘if you aren’t afraid’ pops into my mind every time I get into an African taxi. Yesterday we rode in three taxis in Dakar, Sénégal. All three had cracked windscreens (windshields), at least one door that didn’t open from the outside or inside (scoot across), windows that didn’t open, and two of three drivers who had no idea where they were going.
The first driver couldn’t read and didn’t speak English or French, only Wolof (the local language). We didn’t realise all that until we reached our destination and even the fellow at the hotel (who spoke four languages) couldn’t communicate with him. He had to run up the road to find someone else who spoke Wolof.
But the most memorable taxi ride of this trip so far has been the one in Nzérékoré. Dee, Ellen, Poor John and I wanted to go to the large artisan complex on the edge of town. Of course, the taxi driver had no idea where it was, but we had a scribbled map. Hahaha
As with every African taxi I’ve ever ridden in, the windscreen was cracked. But there’s more.
Doors worked on only one side of the car and had to be yanked open, there was a large hole in the back seat floor, the petrol door and cap were missing, The back end and car ceiling had lost their fabric coverings, and the taxi had to be pushed to get started.
Of course, we weren’t afraid, but we laughed ourselves silly and all got in. The driver made the mistake of turning off the engine when he dropped us off (yes we found the complex), and had to be pushed again to get started. The taxi home was about the same, but didn’t need to be pushed.