Sweet Jesus Mother of Christ, taxi rides in Africa are getting to be ridiculous. We have access to regular taxis that pick one person up at a time but they charge as much as I would pay in America and since I make South African wages, this luxurious option is not available to me.
I ride in a taxi that tourist guides lovingly refer to as “mini buses”. It is far from a bus. It is more like a run down mini-van that they pack 15-20 people into while blasting R&B or hip hop from home speakers they somehow attached to the ceiling of the van (it is not unusual to hit your head on these massive speakers that clearly belong to someone’s sony boombox somewhere in Africa).
Once in the van, if you are actually in the van before they decide to drive off while you are still hanging half out the slider door, they then pack me in between 2 horrendously obese African “Mamas”. It is a rare occasion that I sit in these taxis and see anyone that is white. The fact that I am the only white person in the taxi doesn’t bother me so much as the surprised stares I get from the people of color when I step into the van. I think they are in a bit of shock when they see a white person using this mode of transport and this I actually find amusing.
So, there I sit wedged between two huge black women, their fatty flesh enveloping my own, bag on lap, pressing my feet firmly on the ground of the taxi to stay in my seat. I must brace for the worst since the taxi driver has no concept of red lights or that there are other cars on the road. It is typical for them to create a third lane on a two lane road, race other taxis, and pull out into the road without looking, forcing other motorists to slam on their breaks. The driver and his helper (the helper sits next to the slider door and takes your money) are usually missing their front teeth and sniff constantly while bobbing their heads to their outrageously loud Snoop Dogg CD.
It is of god advice to bring exact change. I tell you this from my own experience of getting ripped off by one of these taxi men. I gave him R20 for a R5 taxi ride. He then says he needs to collect more money to get my change, I think nothing of it. When it comes times for me to get dropped off, the driver pulls up to a light, in the fast lane in moving traffic, opens the door to let me out, throws my change at me and drives off. All the while I am trying not to get hit by the cars whizzing past me. When I look down in my hand, he has only given me R2 out of the R15 he owes me… sigh.
There are also the times that you get the random person next to you coughing violently. This wouldnt be such a worry if I were in the States, but it becomes a problem when you know that TB affects a large part of the population and most cases go untreated. It is those times I am grateful to be sitting next to a window I can hang my head out of. When I am not next to a window, I try to hold my breath the duration of my 15 minute ride down the road.
Last, but definitely not least, there are the times you get in the taxi and one of those men missing their teeth has a Don Juan attitude and proceeds to tell you how beautiful you are, that you should dump your boyfriend and to meet him when he gets off work. Lucky me.
This didnt even go into all the various names these taxis have plastered on the outside of them. Either in the form of airbrushing or giant custom made stickers, names like “Da Dogg Pound” or “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” are slathered across all sides of the vehicle while bouncing down the street with Mariah Carey or Snoop Dogg blasting from their home made sound system. While the passengers inside do not reflect the vibe at all: middle aged, obese, black women with handkerchiefs tied around their head, long skirts and large bags they will place on their head after they exit the taxi and walk down the street with.
There are so many other ridiculously foreign scenes I have witnessed or been a part of in South Africa, this just being one of them; yet I am becoming more and more used to all of it. When I arrived I was culture shocked and had a hard time feeling comfortable. South Africa isnt the safest place for a young single woman and being a victim of four separate robberies in the 7 months I have lived here I understand this completely.
Time marches on and these events become receptive, leading to a familiarity and ultimately becoming normal. South Africa is a special place, a place full of people that deserve admiration after the struggles they have endured and the peacefulness with which they dealt with it. Life could have been a lot different had the black majority that fought to end apartheid decided to end it violently. Not to say that there was never violence, because that would be a lie, but the transition through trials and mediation along with the spirit of these people is remarkable.
Life is much easier in San Francisco, much more pleasurable, fun loving, and less witness to suffering and I miss it immensely but somehow there is a purpose in all of this and I am learning as I go along. Sometimes in tears or with frustration but it all comes full circle in the end.