Bush Taxi Races and Japanese Volunteers
Sometimes I swear if they don't kill me in an outright accident, the bush taxis here are going to give me a heart attack. Today, I was waiting for a bush taxi on the side of the road, as usual. Before long I see not one, but two coming along. I considered myself lucky because if the first one was full, then the second one would probably stop (it's worth noting that being "full" is not compatible with being a bush taxi). As the first one started to slow, however, the second one sped up, and swung around the first to overtake and went wizzing past.
So I cross the street to get into my bush taxi. The bush taxi "conductor" (I don't know what else to call him but he collects the money and packs the luggage on the roof and is called the "moto dog" in zarma) ushers me into the car clearly in a hurry. I noticed at this point that there was hardly anyone in the vehicle. Two whole rows were empty?! Truly an anomoly. I considered myself again to be lucky. But before I could properly make myself comfortable in my luxury accomodations, the taxi was wizzing off down the road and the dude was slamming the sliding door shut.
Brief side note about bush taxis - It is not uncommon for them to start moving with the main door still open. Indeed, it is actually the norm for them not to. There is speculation among PCV's that the apprentice/conductor dude is considered incompetant if he cannot run alongside the car for several feet and then hop in and shut the door after the vehicle gets atleast halfway to cruising speed. All this with a vehicle that greatly resembles a very slightly oversized VW bus crammed with around 30 people. Not exactly easy to just hop back in. You get the idea. Now back to the story.
When we last left our hero (me) I had found myself in a curiously empty bush taxi that was wizzing down the road at an unusually high speed (especially for a rundown toyota van). Well at this speed it was not long before we caught up to...and passed the other taxi. The one that had zoomed past as my own had stopped for me. As my conductor dude shouted some taunt out the window as we went passed it dawned on me: these lunatics were racing!
Now let me tell you, my road is pretty good by Nigerian standards. Not too many potholes and only a moderate serving of livestock. And it's paved. But I still wouldn't want to race a vehicle that's in good shape on it. But these two bush taxis were leap frogging, and weaving, and zooming all the way. As one would stop it would be a rush to get the passengers and their baggage loaded while the other one zipped ahead...only to have to stop for another passenger further up. Or not. At one point we started moving again while the apprentice guy was still on the roof. Let me say that again. There was a man. Up on the roof. And the door was open. And the car started moving. Quickly. He was truly skilled as he was able to clamber down and back into the car, all with a huge grin on his face.
With all the weaving about, this is when I learned that a full taxi is a blessing. With all those people wedged in there, you can't bounce around. And if perchance the bush taxi were to roll over, well you're plenty padded then aren't you. All those squishy bodies. Also makes it quite easy to take a nap. It was fun, however, when this little old lady on the side of the road tried to buy the sack of leaves that one of our passengers had up on the roof. The whole bush taxi got involved in the negotiation. We gave her a hard time and she ended up not buying the sack, but it was fun.
Despite a few scares, we made it into Niamey in record time and with everyone in good spirits...even though I think we lost. So I went and flagged down a town taxi to take me to the bureau. It was in this taxi that I finally met one of the Japanese volunteers that are working in Niger.
I've been looking forward to meeting one of these volunteers and I'll tell you why: our common language is Zarma. After a few minutes of conversation with the driver and another passenger, I asked the driver if the Japanese girl in the backseat spoke Zarma (I had only heard her say one or two short phrases about where she was going). He said yes so I immediately engaged her in conversation. She was much more reticeant about speaking, but I asked her how long she's been here and such. It was awsome.
One of the Nigerien passengers asked why we would speak Zarma to eachother (both being foreigners). So I explained I don't speak Japanese and she doesn't speak English. Zarma, therefore, is our common tongue. They thought this was a riot. As did I really. I have to say that it was definately a crazy experience to speak to a foreigner, from another industrialized nation, in an obscure African language because that is our only common language.
I suggest you try it some time.
(Btw Mom, I wasn't in quite as much danger as I make it sound in this post. But the bush taxi ride was quite thrilling.)