Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Written by Chad
I hope that sometime in my lifetime medical science can bestow upon humanity the same level of immortality that Burkina mechanics have achieved with bush taxis. A glance at their odometers would prove to you that each taxi is its own miracle of mileage. Their perserverity would put any 1980s Volvo to shame... if not for the glass splintering off of the windshields, missing seat cushions, doors held on by rubber bands and other eyesores, which the taximen seem to overlook as mere cosmetic trivialities.
Yes, the taximen are a different breed altogether from their fellow countrymen- a far cry away from those Toyota-sporting gentry and those Landcruiser-sporting Westerners. The taximen seem pretty apathetic toward modern automobile aesthetics, invariably sacrificing pageantry for functionality. If anything, instead of car shows, Burkina might have car freak shows. The vessels faring these open highways seem patched together from a mishmash of relics, like Frankenstein's monster. That's why in Burkina, junkyards are nowhere to be found- there's always someone willing to drive it.
The taxis somehow make up for their lack of showmanship and continuity of design with their interior decorating. Each amalgamation of car parts is adorned with its own unique array of oriental fortune charms on the rearview. The dashboard sports the kind of dangling doodads one might expect in a gypsy caravan or an ex-hippie's garage sale. Like some sort of shrine to the taxi gods, you'll find dirty stuffed animals, broken toy trinkets, and other dumpster divings glued or hanging in the front. To complement their pimped-out rides, taxi drivers (and all Burkinabe drivers, pretty much) carry key chains with tiny stuffed animals attached. No one can tell me why.
To complete the taxi's feng shui, really pulling it all together, the decorators seem to have sought out the only uncracked corners of the glass and attached stickers of their favorite Cameroonian soccer players mid-kick or heavily mascara-ed Middle Eastern models. If you're in the passenger seat, you might not be able to even see the road through all the window stickers. Often the bushtaximen will christen their beloved vans with a nickname as an American might do with a beach house. For example, we once rode in a taxi proudly named OBAMA where we met a taximan named Baby in his classy t-shirt/blazer combo.
I always find myself wondering: just what kind of dude chooses the bush taxi life? Like sea pirates, they forever roam, living meal to meal with the van as their home and the highway their mistress. For these renegades, not even a moment's consideration is paid to fastening one's seatbelt. But such is the fast-paced, risk-laden daily grind for these brazen youth. Jumping out of and boarding a rolling vehicle are base qualifications in their job description. They dangle their entire bodies out open doors, acrobatically slide through windows, climb onto the roofs with finesse. All while the taxi is in motion. We were startled on one occasion to hear the loud clack of a taxi dude's flip flops as he leapt like a gymnast off the roof onto the pavement and sprinted to the side door of the moving taxi. It unnecessarily resembled a chase scene from some Jackie Chan flick.
I take taxis into Banfora a lot, because Route 7 cuts through my village. Route 7 is a major road connecting Burkina's largest city Ouagadougou to Ivory Coast's largest city Abidjan. The commons of my village are right along the road where there happens to be toll plaza. Since Burkina's GDP is among the lowest in the world, it makes sense that here these village farmers would seize the toll plaza as an economic opportunity and develop around it. It's kind of like how on the Discovery Channel a complex ocean ecosystem in the arctic builds up around a heat vent. The toll plaza has become like a truckstop for cargo transporters, buses, and bush taxis, so village women sit roadside for 16 hours a day, hawking mangoes and cashews. To serve these saleswomen, a few tiny boutiques now line the road. There's also a few nearby straw huts for villagers and pilgrims alike to kick back and gossip while sipping palm wine or millet beer.
Anyway, a month or so ago the SOSUCO sugarcane factory workers protested their wages by blockading Route 7. As a result, traffic bottlenecked and came to standstill, meaning that tons of hungry bush taxis and buses idled beside my village. Sales went through the roof for these women, boutiques, and bars. It was like Black Friday. The moral of the story is: maybe you should think twice the next time you shake your fist at a traffic jam.
A month before the SOSUCO strike, I was dispatching myself again by bush taxi and hit a similar roadblock. There was a high school student strike outside Bobo-Dioulasso city limits. The students were huddling and chanting in the street fifty feet ahead. They had downed a tree to obstruct the road and were waving its leafy branches in the air like kids making believe with magic wands. The driver put his palm to his face and switched off the ignition. Soon everybody was off the bush taxi, save for me and a napping elderly lady. My iPod playlist and I waited about thirty minutes, then I left some money for the driver, and exited the taxi into the woods to circumvent the hubbub. I emerged on the other side, stuck out my thumb, and hitchhiked into the city with some attractive French women. Traffic Jam = 0. Me =1.
Tana and I have had countless other run-ins on Bush Taxis, anecdotes which I'll try to condense by way of bullet point:
- One time a taxi with no seats tried to drive off with Tana on board but not me. She jumped off.
- One time Tana had to sit on my lap on a crowded bush taxi, so now I understand the agony endured by every mall Santa Claus.
- Often, taxis will leave Banfora and then immediately turn around and drive back into town so they can fill their empty seats- this wastes up to a half hour and makes me want to tuck and roll.
- One time we traveled on taxi swarming with houseflies who came for animal carcasses in the trunk but stayed to repeatedly land on our faces and eyeballs.
- One time I took a video of taximen trying to force a perturbed bull in a straightjacket into the taxi (perhaps a routine activity for them):
- One time the president of my Union and I were sitting in the back seats we careened through road construction zone at light speed (I've delivered pizza and gotten my share of speeding tickets in my day, but this was something else). Every road bump felt like a double-bounce on a trampoline. Mahamadi and I were flipped into the air like pancakes.
- Often you'll see ridiculous cartoony loads carried by buses and taxis. I once saw a pickup truck carrying three times its height in foam mattresses. It could have scraped the base of some low-flying plane.
- One time after sunset I couldn't hail a taxi for an hour so I had to bike 15k in the dark. As luck would have it, I didn't have any one of our ten flashlights and the moon was on leave. Luckily about halfway through the trek, when the blackness became pitch, a little boy from my village emerged with a live chicken clucking in his bicycle basket. His name was Fassoum and he, like all Burkinabe, has uncanny night vision. So for the rest of that escapade, Fassoum was my guardian seeing-eye dog, shouting "Chaddy!" when I needed to pull to the shoulder and then saying "Allons-y" (Let's go!). When we were safe and sound, I thanked him for rescuing me with a Sprite.
Table of Contents
- ► 2012 (13)
- ▼ 2011 (27)