Sunday, May 23, 2010

Travelling Third Class

I have wanted to share a bit about travelling by public transport for some time now. We have many options here; we can take the train, city buses, a hired private taxi or a regular taxi, which is also known as 'third class'. Dan and I both have been travelling by third class since our first week here. This form of transportation is cheap (5 rand, or about 80 cents for us to get into the city), often too loud and to be honest, quite scary. I love it.

These taxis are small buses that have a capacity to carry about 16 passengers. More often they carry upwards of 20, depending on how much the passengers feel like squeezing together. They drive unnecessarily fast and too often instead of slowing down when the car ahead brakes, they create a new lane and drive on the far left side of the road, or down the middle of the two lanes, creating three lanes. They are usually pumping out pop music like Lady Gaga or other music like Akon and believe it or not, Justin Beiber (or Jason Bieber as radio hosts refer to him here). The driver focuses on driving while his partner yells out the window “Cape Town” or “Wynberg” (these are the only two destinations we need to know from where we live). Often the mate (as this person was known in Ghana) will be dancing and singing along to the music while yelling out his destination to people on the street. The mates have incredible skills for whistling and shuffling people in and out of the taxis. It seems to me they share the same accent, a mate accent, if you will. When they yell “Cape Town” it’s more like “Cap Tooown”. They often refer to younger women as “lady” and older women as “Ma” and men as “dude”.

One of my favourite instances of this was last week. I was waiting to cross the street and a taxi was driving past. It slowed down the mate yelled “Hey lady! Where you goin, Wynberg?” I shook my head no and he said “Where you goin?” I replied “across the street” He said “oh well, then, please, do cross”

Often these taxis are adorned with many stickers on the inside. I would love to find out where they buy them, but I think maybe they aren’t meant for me to own, but to enjoy in this specific context. I will share with you now some of the funnier and often confusing ones that I have come across (this does mean that I have taken notes while in the taxis. I am still figuring out how much of a nerd that makes me)
¥ “Pay with a smile and I’ll drive with a smile”
¥ “To know me does not mean you don’t have to pay”
¥ “Stop the spread of TB, open the windows!”
¥ “I like traditional women better because they cook like their mothers, modern women drink like their fathers”
¥ “I like your lovely perm, but not on my windows”
¥ “Dear passengers, one rotten potato spoils the rest, because of one late passenger I cannot speed and kill the rest!”
¥ “Please don’t rush me, if your late I’m on time”
I suspect I will keep adding to this list in the next two weeks. I forgot to mention that often it will be written on the side of the bus how many passengers the vehicle can carry. The other day I was in a taxi that read "The capacity for this bus is 16 passengers" The owners had changed the 6 into a 9 with a thick black marker. There was also a crate that was being used as a seat. Like I said, upwards of 20 passengers is more realistic. The stickers about speeding are a bit misleading as every taxi I have been in has driven much too fast. I just try not to get stuck on the back corner. I figure if anything were to go wrong my chances of getting out unharmed are better in the middle of the taxi than in the back.

With Metrorail train services on strike these taxis have been working over time, trying to get as many people as once where they need to go. It is quite amazing really and has become one of the things I look forward to in the morning. Even though, as I said before, they can be quite terrifying, they make for an entertaining journey to work in the morning.

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