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Taxi Rides
27 June 2003

“Glimpses of Namibia” Part 2: Taxi Rides

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A bunch of us went to visit our friend who also teaches at a senior secondary school.  He lives a long way up a dirt road, off the main road.  They are in the process of redoing the road, and so currently there is a very sandy side road running parallel to the primary road.  We were in a very very old yellow car that the driver hot-wired to get started.  We were packed in as usual, 4 in the back and two up front in the passenger seat.  Forget about seatbelts.  The trunk didn’t quite shut, and on the tar road the car had a maximum speed of about 60km/h (35mph) and it went much slower in the sand.  He did a pretty good job of maneuvering through the sand, and we only got stuck once.  When we got out to push, I thought, at least it isn’t snow.  When we finally arrived at our destination, our bags were covered in dust—because the trunk didn’t quite close all the way.

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On Sunday, we all hitched out together.  There aren’t too many rides out of the village on a Sunday morning.  We were sitting under a tree reading books and playing cards, preparing to wait a long time for a ride, when someone came to tell us that someone went to get a truck for us.   Some village entrepreneur evidently decided it would be worth it to make a special trip for 12 iilumbu.  So there we were: 12 Peace Corps volunteers with giant backpacks, plus 3 or 4 Namibians squeezed into the bed of a bakkie (a pickup truck), cruising down a village road and then onto the B1—the main strip.  I’m not sure how many stares we got since I was buried under people and luggage and couldn’t see a thing.  Every once in a while someone would quiery: Where’s Sera?  I would raise an arm above the pile to show my location and assure them I was still alive.

*Sera in a taxi (Venture)

Normally we walk from Shoprite with our groceries to our hitch point where we get a ride home.  But this particular weekend we were quite laden down with our groceries, packages from the post office, and other miscellaneous heavy things, so we decided to pay one of the barefoot kids with dirty tattered clothes that always hangs around the store to push our stuff to the hitch point in a shopping cart.  Shopping carts apparently weren’t designed to go through sand.  We finally got to the road where it was smooth pushing so the kid waits until there are no cars and then starts running with our cart down the road to the taxis.  As happens every time, as soon as we near the taxis, the spotters come rushing up to us.  It seems they all know by now that we’re going to Ekulo.  Zac and I still haven’t figured out why they make such a big deal over us compared to their other customers.  But it makes getting a ride very easy.

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So far, while riding through Namibia in various taxis, we’ve run over a dog, a rabbit and snake. The dog was on our first ride back to Ondangwa after visiting Ekulo during November.  The rabbit was during our ride with Big Jack in the 32-wheeler.  The snake was on purpose.  People here really hate snakes and are terrified of them, which makes sense since most snakes here are poisonous to a lethal degree.  The driver saw the snake, stopped, turned around and drove back to it.  He apparently had done this before, as he seemed to have a technique.  He hit the brakes while his wheels were right on top of the snake, thus smearing the snake across the rode.

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One time we were in a taxi riding home from Ondangwa and one of the passengers was sick.  The driver kept stopping to let him hop out and spew (while everyone else in the combi stared with great interest).  A few times however, there was apparently no warning as the man would just lean his head out the window and let loose.  And since the windows were open, a few of the passengers towards the front would get hit.  Luckily Zac and I were in the back.

a baby in a taxi*

We often are in taxis with mothers and babies.  The baby just sits on the mothers lap—we’ve never seen a child car seat in our entire time here.  And for some reason the babies never really cry, or fuss, or make noise or anything.  They just stare at us with the large, beautiful dark eyes.

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In our Saturday morning ritual of walking along the tar road heading for Omuthiya and hailing anything that passes by, Zac and I often grumble about how the white people never stop and pick us up.  One time, as we were grumbling about this because a bright yellow truck driven by white people had just passed us, the truck actually stopped, turned around, and came back for us.  The drivers were headed for Ondangwa as well and agreed to take us.  It was a four-door pick up truck so we were able to sit comfortably inside.  They were computer people coming up from Windhoek (which can give you an idea of how fast they were driving—since it was only morning and they were already in the North) to install some computer stuff somewhere (Zac would be able to give more precise details, this was all I registered from the conversation).  I’m always curious about other white people in Namibia.  Most whites in the North are some sort of volunteer, but there are a lot in the south that just live here.  That was the case for these two—they were born in Namibia and had lived here their whole life.  They were quite nice and dropped us off at the post office without accepting any money.  After we left the post office, we walked back out to the road to get a ride into Ongwediva to visit the computer lab.  They happened to drive by again and picked us up again and took us all the way to Ongwediva.  Because things like that just happen here in Namibia.

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We’ve nearly died several times in taxis.  Which is a little scary, especially since we’re never wearing seatbelts.  The seatbelts in the back just aren’t there—but you’re normally so squeezed in that even if the car rolled over a few times you wouldn’t budge.  In the front there is usually a seatbelt and on the rare occasion that I am the only person in the front seat, I will wear it just for fun.

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One of the times we nearly died it was because a large Dirk Fruit truck ran us off the road.  It was apparently trying to pass us (because our taxi that particular morning was painfully slow) but then there was an oncoming vehicle, so it just started honking and ran us off the road.  The other passengers in the car with us were really ticked off and were swearing profusely for quite some time afterwards.  Later, we passed the truck when it was stopped on the side of the road.  Our driver then honked liberally and the other passengers resumed another spate of swearing.

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The few police vehicles we have seen on the roads here generally seem to cause a bigger problem than they could possible solve.  In the U.S. the tradition is for the cars to pull off to the side so the police can pass by.  But here, the cars stay on the road, and the police drive in the other lane—into oncoming traffic.  This usually causes quite a problem.  We see the evidence of this in the newspaper because every once in a while there will be an article about how the police have no vehicles because they’ve crashed all of them.

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Every taxi ride is a little bit different.  Sometimes everyone is quiet, other times quite talkative or argumentative.  Sometimes people ignore us, other times they are interested in us.  On a recent trip into town, one of our fellow passengers, who was either drunk or slightly insane, took great interest in us. He asked all about us, discovered we were from Ekulo, and then asked us about all the teachers there since he knew them.  He repeatedly asked us our names, and then would practice using them, until he forgot them again, and would ask for them again.  He was deeply concerned with the book I was trying read and kept insisting that I wouldn’t be able to finish it by the time we got into town.  I tried explaining how if I didn’t finish it, I could just read it later.  He didn’t get the concept, and so he continued to warn me that I wouldn’t be able to read the whole book.  At the end of the trip, he seemed satisfied that I had, in fact, not finished the book.  He promised to come visit us at Ekulo.  I wonder if he’ll remember our names?

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