ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View


Memorable Taxi Rides

Last April, my husband and I visited Togo and Benin, West Africa. Ancient Peugeot 504s are the most common cars used for cabs and it's a wonder the cars stay in one piece. No safety belts, undependable doors, and tricky windows. Of all our taxi rides, three stand out.

I. Ouidah to Cotonou, Benin (a couple of hours)

After agreeing on our price to Cotonou, Brian and I sat in in the back of the black Peugeot 504. The driver quickly picked up two more women, who shared the front seat. I was startled to see that the passenger door wasn't properly closed and alerted the driver. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and leaned across the passengers to re-close the door. Suddenly a group of men appeared on the driver's side and thrust their hands into the driver's face!

The strangers struggled with the driver for control over the wheel. They almost bent the key. An imposing man in a red shirt approached the taxi. The men argued and gesticulated vigorously until our driver was forced to leave the car. Big Red Shirt took over the car and moved it off the road next to a small building by the road.

"Monsieur!" we asked. "What is going on?" He imperiously turned and showed me a laminated pass that hung from a chain around his neck. "Je ne suis pas 'Monsieur'!" Oh, so he was someone important. The area where we'd stopped seemed to be the taxi union office. We gathered that our driver was behind on his dues and the union decided it was time to collect. Money exchanged hands, receipts were written and we were finally on our way to Cotonou.

II. Bohicon to Abomey, Benin (9 km.)

After a blissful three-hour train ride from Cotonou to Bohicon, we needed to catch a cab from Bohicon to the Royal Palace of Abomey. In Africa, one doesn't find a taxi -- it finds you. Before we knew it, we were packed into a taxi with seven passengers. My husband shared the front seat with a woman and her baby. The poor woman was practically sitting on the stick shift and her baby was pressed against the dashboard. She turned to me and asked me to hold her baby. I was glad to! The baby sat quietly in my lap while she hung on to my necklace like a train commuter.

After all the other passengers descended, it started raining quite hard. The taxi's windows couldn't close and the windshield wipers had been exhausted years ago. The rain slanted into the car at a 45 degree angle. By the time we arrived at the museum, I was completely soaked on one side.

I was in a sour mood but the truth is that it's pointless to stay mad. I was wearing linen and my clothes were completely dry in 15 minutes.

III. Cotonou, Benin to Lome, Togo (3 hours)

Brian and I shared the front seat while three Ghanaians sat in the back. We were stopping at Lome and they were continuing to Ghana.

Mango season comes twice a year: around late April and in November. The highways are dotted with roadside food stands. This being mango season, the fruit was available everywhere. When our driver stopped to buy a sack of nine mangoes, Brian asked me if I'd like some. "Nah. They'll be too messy," I said.

Our driver proceeded to eat eight mangoes one after the other while he drove! First, he spread a cotton cloth across his lap. He pulled a small yellow mango out from its bag and gave the fruit a perfunctory polish on his lap. He held the mango in his left hand as he steered with his right. His first bite opened the mango. He chewed at the skin and then lopped it out the window. He then proceeded to gnaw and suck at the fruit down to its hairy pit. He did this eight times, devouring each voraciously. He did not eat his ninth mango; that was for later. After the eighth mango, our driver vigorously sucked his teeth for 10 minutes.

At another quick road stop, he discouraged the Ghanaians from buying food. They were having trouble making change and the driver was anxious to keep driving. The young male Ghanaian complained, "Why get angry at us! You get to mango chop and we don't get to chop!" The driver grudgingly said they'd have time, closer to the border.

True to his word, our driver stopped at a bridge near the border. A group of women were selling prawns and various sweets. The Ghanaians chopped and everyone was happy.




{ Previous Letter | This Week's Index | Next Letter }

{ Main Letters Page }

American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy