Posts Tagged ‘taxi’

Abidjan miniatures 8 and end

December 31, 2020

Abidjan is probably the easiest place on earth to find a taxi. They beep at you incessantly the second you place yourself on the pavement, even when you just want to cross the street. They are, in fact, louder and more insistent than their colleagues in Dakar but somehow manage to be less annoying, mostly because in this city literally EVERYONE is making noise… So: taxi. Within seconds.

The driver fills his seat to overflowing and he has positioned his corpulent self like someone on an extended relaxing holiday. But he is most assuredly at work and does not miss a beat when manoeuvering his orange Toyota through the throng in this, the busiest part of the city. And in the meantime: he talks, virtually non-stop. “See this traffic jam?” Er, yes, I do. We are in it. A long procession of private vehicles, blue wôro-wôro, buses, taxis (including mine), vans, gbaka stands still and does not move. This may be a looong ride…

“You see? These people are not even leaving Yopougon. They’re on their way to the next maquis. Everything is here! You want beer, there’s beer. You want food, there is food. You see that bar over there?” He points to his right, across a pavement, lined with food stalls and busy like a bus station. “Yes, that one. Now! When that maquis on the other side closes…” he points to his left: amidst blocks of apartments I spot part of an open space packed with tables and chairs and I pick up the sound of a band that is clearly attempting to top L’Internat in the decibel production department. You only have ONE guess as to the music it plays

“Yes – that’s the place I mean,” my guide and driver continues. “Now. When that maquis closes everybody crosses the road to come here. You see the girls getting ready?” He was not only referring to the ones selling food. “This is the new Rue Princesse, you see? After they had knocked down the old one they all came over here.” Rue Princesse, for the uninitiated, is the busiest street in the area, where boys with money meet drinks meet food meet girls looking for a good time and some money (and maybe even the other way around)… hence the name. You may, by now, have reached the conclusion that the urge to turn life into one giant party is irrepressible here and you would be right.

After an interminable ride through Yopougon we emerge onto one of the three bridges that give access to the six-lane motorway that is part of the giant motorway system linking all constituent parts of this giant city. There’s always a bit of anarchy going on here, to put it mildly. My driver, forever slouched in his seat, belly protruding as we hurtle along, explains that there’s a lot of accidents happening on this stretch of road (in fact I saw an overturned gbaka minibus on the way in) because people don’t keep their distance.

Neither does he, as he alternates between one line of fast moving vehicles and another…

Angré. Oh dear…are you really going back there…?

“So Angré it is where you’re going, right? But there’s nothing there! No life!” The traffic starts thinning out as we get to our exit lane into Cocody, leading to the Boulevard that takes us to Angré. There’s still a bunch of cars about but nothing in the way that Yopougon was crowded. My driver is almost triumphant as he weaves his way in and out of smooth flowing traffic on the two-lane boulevard. “See? Told you! Nothing here! The bosses are sleeping!” It is just after 10pm and we are, indeed, entering a more affluent part of the city. “Now, in Yopougon, hm, you will see people out and about at midnight. One, two, three in the morning. Yes! And do you know why there are so many banks in Yopougon? Simple: when people are having a good time and the money runs out, there’s always one who will say: ah, let me just pop over to the bank and get some more money for our next beers…? You see? But here….”

But then some doubt creeps into his discourse. “Look, I am working really long hours to get some money and then I pass those maquis – every day of the week, and the same guys sit there at eleven pm, twelve midnight, three am…and they are supposed to work the next day? Of course not. And then the next day…I see them again! Where do they get all that money from? I don’t quite understand…” It is likely that the equally ubiquitous Western Union agencies have something to do with that seemingly endless flow of money…

And then he drops me off in far too quiet, empty and miserable Angré. And he almost feels sorry for me. “Look at you, I’m leaving you in this stone dead neck of the woods and look at me and where I am going: back to life, back to joy, back to good food and plenty drinks and gorgeous princesses…” Do I get the picture?

Yes. Certainly. I do. See you soon in this city, enjoyable and exasperating, full of life, noise, crime and grime but in possession of copious amounts of Never Say Die. I will be back.

An Excellent New Year to You All.

Abidjan miniatures 4

December 27, 2020

Ya pas monnaie.”

There is no small change. Sigh. The eternal problem here and it’s almost everywhere. Supermarkets, fancy shops in the big shopping malls…they all have problems finding the right change. The chains of boulangeries are among the worst: if you want a simple baguette and nothing else do not enter the shop if you don’t have a single silvery 100 franc (15 eurocents) in your hand. You will not be served. I once did go into a boulangerie when I wanted something more wholesome than the bland French staple. And ordered what’s called a pain complet but the very nice lady behind the counter made a face when I handed her a 500 franc note. There was no way I was going to get the 200 francs change she now owed me. After some reflection I ordered another smaller pain complet and left with no change, two loafs and I left behind a very happy shop assistant.

Whether it is a red 1,000 franc note or a blue 2,000 franc note let alone a green 5,000 franc note let entirely alone a purple 10,000 franc note (at €15 the highest denomination available), the reaction is universal: copious amounts of huffing and puffing, dramatic searches through pockets, purses and drawers, frequently ending with the utter failure to come up with the required coins. Sometimes this is theatre: they don’t want to part with their own small change. Supermarkets and the shops that are attached to petrol stations tend to offer you a little thing to compensate for the change not given: some sweets, chewing gum or a tiny package of biscuits, that sort of thing. Another solution is to look at the client very sweetly and ask in a coy voice: is there nothing worth 200, 250, 300 francs you want to buy?

In any case, don’t make a scene – these are always counter-productive – and understand that the reason your caissière has no change is that her clients ALL tend to pay with banknotes and expect change back, which means she is almost always short of coins.

But why are these coveted coins of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200 and 250 francs all in short supply? For some it will forever be linked to the traumatic unilateral devaluation of the CFA franc, by France, in January 1994. Goods imported from France became more expensive requiring more coins as a result. This may perhaps offer a partial explanation. This problem has indeed been around since the 1990s and is unlikely to go away any time soon. Even the changeover from the Franc CFA into the doomed* new currency ECO will change nothing.

*doomed because (1) the initiative to convert the Franc CFA into the regional ECO comes from the wrong country, i.e. France and (2) the utterly dominant economy in the region, Nigeria, took one look at the planned new currency and binned it. This means the ECO is either dead or simply the continuation of the CFA franc under a different name.

pic: Eburnietoday

There’s a few urban legends about the coin shortage. Accusing whispers do the rounds about wily street vendors supposedly hoarding tonnes of coins; some reports mention a lively underground coin circuit only they have access to, with scores of secretive exchanges across the city. Hmmmm, not convinced? Neither am I. Fingers point at beggars, too. Yes, they receive a few coins if they’re lucky, which they then spend on food, one would think. But no, says the rumour mill, they hoard those coins so they can pay for trips back home to their families…beggars apparently are non-Ivorians. Yep, sure.

The most plausible reason is a lot more boring: cost. Coins are notoriously expensive to mint. Any banker will tell you that a coin costs massively more to produce than the value it represents. The largest one, 500 francs, is already making way for a banknote, much cheaper to produce. And the others, those pieces of metal representing 5 francs, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200 and even the increasingly unpopular 250 francs? Likely to be in perennial short supply. They just don’t mint too many of them.

In Zone 4

Don’t even think of getting on a Sotra city bus, one of the gbaka minibuses (warning: these are frequently driven by maniacs) or a wôrô-wôrô (local communal taxi) without the right change. This is the routine.

Sotra excepted (they have regular busstops), you can flag down any of these anywhere.

You talk to the driver.

You will be asked where you want to go. Either you state how much money you have and if it is anything over 500 francs (75 eurocents), forget it. Or you know how much the fare is and you simply tell the driver: ya monnaie. You will be taken at your word and there will be hell to pay when you have arrived and you don’t produce the monnaie you promised.

Wôrô-wôrôs are easy to recognise. They are colour coded Japanese saloon cars – colour coded according to the area where they are allowed to operate along fixed routes: yellow in Cocody, blue in Yopougon, green in Marcory/Koumassi, and so on. They sit four passengers: one in front, three at the back. The name is said to have come from a word from the Mandé linguistic family that means sixty (bi-woro), said to be the fare at the time this transport variety was introduced. Well – maybe.

Taxis, by contrast, are universally orange, Côte d’Ivoire’s national colour. They are sometimes still referred to as taxi compteur because they used to have functioning meters. But nobody bothers with those compteurs any more. The reason, as was explained to me, was that the compteurs were inside the formal economy and hence taxed to the hilt, which rendered the whole business unprofitable. Passengers increasingly demanded what became known as ‘arrangements’, where you’d negotiate the fare before getting in the car, standard practice in literally every West African city. But do not – ever – forget to ask the driver this extremely vital question: ya monnaie? He (almost never a ‘she’) will then ask you with which note you will pay: the blue one? OK. The green one? Maybe. The purple one? Forget it.

(Sadly, I have not been able to travel on the rapidly expanding lagoon boat network but I will leave that for my next visit.)

The Corona Chronicles, Bamako

April 8, 2020

Part two – How do you do social distancing when closeness brings you money?

 

March 26. I’m having a chat with a good friend and neighbour, who is part of a taxi business. We have just had the first of what is likely to be a long-ish series of very quiet nights. Immediately after the public confirmation of the first two cases of COVID-19, president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced a 9pm to 5am curfew.

This follows one week after public gatherings of over 50 were banned. This has meant the unthinkable: that quintessentially larger-than-life Bamako phenomenon, the Sunday Marriage, immortalised by Amadou & Mariam, can no longer take place. In addition, schools have been closed and now that the curfew is in full force the bars, restaurants and music clubs, already taking a hit from the less-than-50-only rule, will be closing entirely.

Another measure is the social distance rule for urban transport and this makes my friend’s life rather difficult.

“There’s already very few people out,” he says, “and with this rule I can only take two paying passengers at a time. It’s not worth it. Yesterday I drove around the city for five hours and collected – what… CFA7,500.” That’s 11 euros 43 cents, not enough to cover the petrol and the bribes.

“But,” he went on, “I will probably ride this out. How about the fellows on the Sotrama?” I had already noticed that those ubiquitous green minibuses – named after the long gone SOciété du TRAnsport du MAli – were becoming scarce. Not bad for road safety, as a good number of the (mostly) young men driving them are pretty reckless, if they’re not tired and overworked. A day starts as early as 5am and can go on until 10-11pm (when there is no curfew of course). Money must be given to the owner of the vehicle and what’s left gets divvied up between the driver and the parentikè (apprentice), who ushers the passengers in. Hang on, that’s after the traffic police and sometimes even les coxeurs have had their cut: the former a big slice, the latter a very small one, both paid on the spot.

Your Bamako transport at a glance: Chinese motorbikes (everywhere), private vehicle (increasing in number), taxis (always yellow) and your Sotrama neatly in the middle.

“So what happens,” I ask, “when the Sotrama must halve the number of passengers to respect the new social distance rule?”

“Oh, that’s simple. If you have some 20 passengers on board and they all pay 150 francs, say, you’ll get CFA3,000 for one ride.” And that’s not counting the numerous times people get on and off en route: whenever the apprentice bangs on the roof, the driver veers to the curb and stops. It is everybody’s job (yours and mine) to stay out of their way.

“Now they can only take ten…”

Cycling around the neighbourhood, I did see a few half-full Sotrama doing the rounds with drivers and apprentices looking even gloomier than they normally do. Of course: there’s zero money to be made from a half-full vehicle. And there’s definitely fewer of them on the streets.

In a country without any official safety net both your own money and the patience of the family you will now have to rely on run out pretty quickly. And then what? Your guess is as good as mine. But the longer this goes on, the harder it will get to grab that lowest rung of the ladder that is now disappearing out of sight as a thick Corona-mist hides it from view.

 

To be continued.

BEEP!

February 16, 2011

Out the door, down the stairs, onto the street, turning around to close the front door behind me…

BEEP!

Three steps out, shop’s across the street…

BEEP!

…emerging from shop with baguette…

BEEP!

…four steps along the street in the direction of the fruit stall on the corner…

BEEP!

…six steps later on the way to same fruit stall…

BEEP!

…returning from fruit stall with a few Clementines, just crossing the street to another shop to get some mineral water (which is…

BEEP!

…I said: which is for my coffee machine).

Swinging by the newspaper stand and there is temporary relief…

…home stretch with the groceries but just before getting into the door…

BEEP!

This is not a car alarm constantly going off, nor is it an irritating kid playing with some obnoxious electronic device whilst keeping up with me.

Nope.

It's.......

…. the sound of Dakar’s taxis. And if there is one thing I could change about this place…

BEEP!

…I would BAN these incessant short sharp hits on the claxon button.

BEEP!

When it is

BEEP!

blatantly clear that I have no

BEEP!

intention to use a taxi because I did not wave my arm or nod my head, I did not look in the direction of the driver or made any gesture at all to suggest that I was going to need a ride.

BEEP! “Taxi?”

This is quickly (and unhealthily I admit!) becoming my Dakar pet hate. Taximen: I will let you know when I intend to make use of your services, thank you. No need to BEEP!, slow down when I am trying to cross the effin’ road, flash lights, BEEP! some more. I – WILL – LET – YOU – KNOW!!!

Bloody hell.

And there is no real solace in the realisation that they do it to absolutely everyone who looks well-dressed, briefcased, or foreign.

Last night, as I was taking out a pizza, sure enough: the inevitable BEEP! “Taxi?” right in front of the take away store. ‘Man, you’re joking – it’s 300 metres, tops, to my home.’ The reply: ‘Well, I’ll take you.’ It somehow never occurs to the dear drivers that someone who is walking fast in a straight line with a take away pizza in his hand it highly unlikely to be wanting a taxi. Nooooo – it’s…

BEEP! “Taxi?”

Told you it was becoming a pet hate, right?

Taking a break from the beep. Photo: Martin Waalboer

But there are times you do need a taxi, though, which is another minor headache.

‘Salaam aleikoum.’

‘Aleikoum salaam.’

‘Bëggue dem VDN – Cimetière’ (Trying out my rudimentary Wolof for ‘I’d like to go to VDN, which is a thoroughfare, Cimetière being near the office where I pay my rent. I walk it at times but not when I’m busy or can’t be bothered.)

‘Montez’

‘Fii ba Cimetière ñaata?’ (Never get into a taxi without knowing the price)

=some ridiculous amount is mentioned=

‘Mon frère, seer na lool’ (probably won’t need translation.)

=slightly less ridiculous amount=

‘OK, mille francs.”

‘Deux mille.’

‘My good friend, it’s round the corner, you can take me to town for that amount.’

‘Mille cinq cents.’

By then, I want to be on my way. And again, no solace in the realisation that this happens to absolutely everyone who takes a taxi. It’s a ritual but one that wears out pretty quickly, especially when you have to do this often.

My street. Fruit stall roof on the top left. Very low taxi density on this pic.

But the real BEEP! problem is of course that there are BEEP! entirely too many of them. Way too BEEP! many taxis chasing way too little BEEP! money. At the Forum last week, someone offered me a ride from one building to the next building – for a thousand francs, €1,50. I’ll give you a hundred, I said and he was genuinely prepared to take the offer…

These are desperate times. Crisis in nearby Côte d’Ivoire lingers on with great impact on the whole region (still, bless Abidjan taxis – they have metres!); oil hits $100/barrel again (import bill goes through the roof here); economy stubbornly refuses to take off, as the government stifles any entrepreneurial spirit that isn’t tied to the Royal Family in one way or another. So, what’s a humble taxi driver to do? BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! for attention in the hope that someone will take him up on his offer. After negotiation.

But good grief – it’s annoying. Even more so when I know that once inside, you can have great conversation, crack jokes, take instant Wolof tutorials…just stop that bloody incessant…

BEEP!

Oh well.