Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Taxis in Mali - 2002

Greetings from Mali, where it has graduated from being very hot to what I would like to term as blasted hot. After putting out the thermometer for about 10 minutes, the temperature was 107°. Just imagine what it must have been right out in the direct sun! Because many of the overseas hires teachers don't have a car here in Bamako, we take public transportation. The idea of taking a crowded baché shoulder to shoulder with sweaty bodies doesn't appeal to me, so a taxi is much more palatable. Rather than try to hunt down a taxi each time we want
to go somewhere, we have chosen to use a taxi driver who has proven to be dependable.
That's where Mr. Coulibaly comes in. He is a quiet, reserved fellow who doesn't get hyped up or upset by crazy drivers, animals blocking the road, craters in the dirt roads, or shoppers who decide to stay a little longer than planned. He (like most Malians) does not have a telephone, so we make plans the previous time we are with him. Mr. Coulibaly always shows up on time - not Malian time, which can be up to several hours later. We willingly pay a little more for his courteous, timely service, but don't feel like we are taken advantage of simply because we are toubabs - white people.

Riding in Mr. Coulibaly's yellow Renault taxi is a memorable experience. Like most cars in Mali, it is in need of repair. In the back seat, the doors provide you a choice. One door allows you to crank open the window for "air" (albeit the dusty polluted Bamako air), but you have no door handle with which to shut the door. The other door has no window crank, but you can shut the door properly from the inside. Depending on the luck of the draw, you will get the door which will on that day open both from the inside and outside.

This past Monday, after finishing our errands, we jumped in the taxi. The grinding noise we heard on the way there seemed to be louder. Within blocks after starting, the car stopped. Unlike previous times where a push would help start the car, the engine would not start. Coasting to a less busy road, Mr. Coulibaly parked the car and then proceeded to look at the
spark plugs. A man strolling by immediately stopped at the taxi. Wearing a strange hat, psychedelic shirt and a mysterious grin, he assessed the situation and paused. Taking off his hat, he outstretched his hands in a "Y", seemingly asking for strength and power. He continued his "duty" until Mr. Coulibaly closed the hood after changing the sparkplugs. Mission
accomplished, the man smiled, put on his hat, and walked on. Proceeding cautiously on, we were now within walking distance of our homes - should the car break down again. Deciding to take advantage of having transportation, a teacher asked Mr. Coulibaly if he could make a quick stop at the small grocery store ahead. Although he would love to, Mr. Coulibaly wasn't sure if he should, especially with the traffic police nearby. Explaining further, Mr. Coulibaly admitted that he wasn't sure if his car could turn left here. With the lane clear, the taxi successfully turned left, proceeding towards the grocery store. Safely at home, we gave Mr. Coulibaly a little extra money towards the repair of his taxi.

Like most things in Mali, even taxi driving is an adventure.....

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