How the taxis work - and another week

Trip Start Feb 02, 2008
Trip End May 03, 2008

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Saturday, March 1, 2008

mon 25 - Fri 29 Feb
Hate to sound dull, but it really WAS just another week at the office !
i (and my Regional Fin & HR & fundraising Mngrs) had two whole days of telephone conferences with each of the management teams of each of the 9 country officses in the region in turn, going through their forward plans for the 08/09 year, and the budgets and funding and HR issues etc. lots of prep and v bad telfone lines etc, but it all worked out in the end.
Had a nice cold beer breifily one evening mid-week after work with Christophe, formerly one of "ours" now working with one of "the opposition" here (regionally). Nice bloke - known him for years.

Fri 29
All getting around is by rickety old yellow and black taxis - i think i haven't told you this.
Some of them wld have been scrapped MANY years ago in any other country, but they GO - which is what matters. often no suspension, often little more than a shell .... unless you are lucky to get one of 5% of newer ones (perhaps only 20 years old). they are EVERYWHERE. it costs from here about 500 CFA (50p !) to get from here to my local supermarket about 10 mins ride away. Costs about 1000-1500 to get anywhere else in Dakar.

It goes like this:
For a ride that should cost 500.
You twitch a finger at any one of thethe dozens of them passing in any given 5 minute period, and he screeches to a halt.
If the taxi is all battered and looks like a death trap, then you turn away without even acknowledging him or his taxi.
The whole thing seems to be that both parties have to appear completely disinterested in either going anywhere or getting any business.
If the car is OK - You have to look as if you don't wwant him anyway.
You amble cooly to his open window looking like you're in two minds and say where you're going ... leave a tantalisingly long indifferent pause ... then he'll mutter something like "mille cinq cents (1500)" as if he doesn't want you to get in either and its JUST TOO HOT TO DO ANYTHING TODAY LEAST OF ALL TAKE YOU ANYWHERE ... at which you feign surprise, explode in friendly laughter, and say what a good joke that is.
Then tell him very firmly that anything more than 200 would be daylight robbery and you'd rather walk since you have plenty of time.
He then says "1000" with about as much real offense as if you've just asked him to sell all his children and his mother.
At which I stand up away from his window, as if to make off, saying "500 dernier prix, mon ami, il y a des autres taxis qui vont le faire".
With the hangdog expression of one of the numerous tethered goats loitering at street corners waiting for the chop, he grunts, languidly flicks his wrist to indicate that i should get in the back, and revs the engine .... which seems to be mis-firing and pinking and stalling all at the same time.
I wrestle open the door just managing not to pull it off its rotten hinges, and allow myself to sink into the sumptuous, once probably almost grey, dusk-caked upholstery spread thin across the exposed springs stretched between the wooden frame of the of the homemade back-seat.
It's only when you hit the first pot-hole that you really realise what you've done - and that this is one of the many with apparently no shock-absorbers, no suspension, and no air in the tyres. Your whole spinal column feels like it might shoot through the floor of the taxi, and at exactly the same time as your head hits the roof - creating the same kind of sensations as the goat on the corner is about to experience.
The journey usually entails knuckle-whitening stretches in the on-coming traffic, and some other alarming moments swerving off the road altogether and swinging around in the deep sand on the verge to avoid unmarked roadworks, or missing manhole covers.

You usually get to where you are going eventually.

On Friday evening I went up to the northern part of the city (to see some friends for dinner) - which is about a 500 taxi ride away - the novelty was doing the off-road thing, and the oncoming traffic thing, in the dark.
His windscreen seemed to be made of perspex, and had clearly been cleaned with a brillo pad at some stage in its life.
I think he had one headlamp working - or was it a sidelight?
The light refraction and haze in the brillo-buffed windscreen created by the oncoming headlights was truly beautiful ... as we danced effortlessly through the lanes of traffic ... I idly wondered if that might be what the Aurora Borealis looks like, and whether i'd ever see it in this life.
Then I reflected and thought perhaps i'd already passed over after a fatal spinal injury sustained due to the pile-driving effect of plunging into and then emerging from a pothole which must have already consumed several minibusses that night.
My chauffeur sensibly spent much of the journey hanging out of his window and peering into the gloom and clouds of diesel exhaust - rather than gazing in wonderment with me at the Aurora Borealis and thinking about the after-life..
With split-second timing he pulled his head and elbow in just in time as we clipped wing mirrors with an oncoming taxi, braked abruptly and swerved violently, and cursed the whole world in Wolof - a beautiful language (in the right hands) which fortunately most of world doesn't understand.
He popped his head out again just as another very big full-beam fog-lamps Aurora Borealis was appearing.
On arrival he demanded a tip - as of right - and I was (as usual) so pathetically grateful to be alive, although likely to need to wear a corset and a truss for years to come, that I give him 1000 anyway, the equivalent of one whole British pound. All that 1500, No- 200, No- 1000, No- 500, seemed a long time ago and not to matter much in the grander life and death scheme of things.
He looks with a mixture of disdain and disbelief at the 100% tip in his hand, and then scowls at me as if he might as well sell his children anyway.
It's what you call a "cultural experience".

Once I got there, I met some colleagues (Bryan, and Peter and his wife Caroline), and folks from other agencies (who I didn't know) at a place called the "Sao Brasil" (Saint Brazil ?!) which has nothing brazilian about it at all, but is a nice kind of open air, but under shade - bar/restaurant. Had a v convivial evening - and hailed another taxi home.
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