Public transportation, part two: The Bush Taxi

There is a reason “bush taxi” is uttered with some reverence. After freshening up somewhat in Kumba, rectifying one misunderstanding but continuing to receive bad news about likely attendance for our meeting, we nevertheless set out for Ekondo Titi by bush taxi.

The taxi park at Mbonge road was an experience in and of itself. Crowds converged upon the taxi as we got out, everyone eager to help the white man. “Welcome to our country!” “How long have you been here?” (In response to the latter, another man retorted, referring to Lisa’s Oroko Bible translation t-shirt, “Look at her shirt dummy; she’s part of the translation project -- she's been here 10 years!”) The car to Bekondo, loading and nearly ready to leave, hailed us, but we turned them aside and went to purchase our tickets to ET. Filling #2 and #3 place on the list, we sat down to wait for the car to fill. Four passengers in a 2-door car is not good enough, no; a full car has 4 in the back, 4 (including driver) in front. Children are not counted.

As sat on the rickety benches provided, back to the chophouse/mini-bar, I took note of some of the foodstuffs for sale to hungry passengers: the ubiquitous Kumba bread, breaded meat-pies sold off the head in blue-sided, glass-windowed boxes; yoghurt (“Yaourt, yaourt!” the hawkers cry unintelligibly); dried fish; fried skewered snails with onions and pepe. There were also vendors selling a random selection of products from watches and pens to clothing and belts. Oh, and should I be concerned by the amounts of alcohol being consumed here?

Loading itself nearly doubles the wait time. We crammed into place in the backseat while people swarmed about, stuffing the trunk with more luggage than you’d think possible. Just when we thought everyone else would pile in and we’d be off -- after 15 minutes of sitting and sweating in the car -- someone came and told us to get out and rearrange ourselves for a better fit. I beg to differ on how it was better, but there was really no way to comfortably put 4 ladies in the back: Lisa was jammed in one corner, her computer bag perched on knees reaching halfway to her chin. My back connected with upholstery but my body twisted at such an angle that I was wedged in with barely one leg touching the seat; left rested atop right. The third lady perched on the edge of the seat, my knees digging into her back. The fourth lady was sitting pretty, fully on the seat -- and complaining that her feet were squished. I thought the third lady was more than gracious not to chew her out for her ungrateful attitude.

Yes, I did say 4 in front. And remember, no one drives automatic out here. In the front seat of the impossibly decrepit Toyota “olla” (Corolla with half the letters fallen off) a lady and baby perched half on the e-brake console next to a man in the passenger bucket seat while the driver and another young man shared the driver’s seat. The driver sat forward and to the left; the young man put his right leg to the right of the gearshift, his left leg on the other side of the driver??

The driver periodically stopped the car, grabbed the tire iron, got out and tinkered with the rear left tire for a moment, then got back in. Was the wheel in danger of falling off otherwise? Maybe. Just beyond Bole, the driver discovered he had lost his spare tire. Everyone got out to wait while he turned back to find it, but Lisa and I, not wishing to crawl out only to have to wedge ourselves in again, stayed in the car for the 20 minute detour of futility. You bounce around a lot more when there aren’t three other people to hold you in place.

Finally, at a narrow spot in the road in the middle of a village, a big truck came roaring past from the opposite direction, not giving an inch. We landed up half in the ditch and unable to manoeuvre out. Once again, everyone piled out (Lisa and I, too, this time) so the men could rock, push, pull, and lift the car back onto the road.

Was this a particularly eventful trip? I asked Lisa. Nope.

The whole trip ended up being all for naught since no one was there to go to the meeting anyway. We met with the chief who was ever friendly and gracious, sympathized with our trip out and wished he could send us home with his driver who was unfortunately in Douala. However, the chief did end up paying for an extra seat on the way home so we had only 3 in the back, not 4. I don’t know how we could possibly have wedged in a fourth. A few miles out of ET, we switched cars. The passenger -- who was in the backseat when we got in at ET then got out and was replaced -- rejoined us, and the replacement disappeared.

This trip was more uneventful. We were treated to blaring music this journey, I’m assuming because the alternator had enough current to run the radio. This did not seem to be the case the previous day because we started with sound but it soon cut out.

Arriving alone in Kumba, I’d had enough of dust and cramped spaces so I took a long, brisk walk to the Lutheran compound rather than catching a taxi from the Mbonge road taxi park. I was a sweaty, muddy, red-faced uninvited guest by the time I got there.


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