Monday, January 16, 2006

November 2nd 2002

Hi Everyone,

The taxi rides are the main support of transportation for both the Basotho and the Peace Corps Volunteers in Lesotho. In fact that is one way a Basotho can distinguish a Peace Corps Volunteer from a tourist or say another Aid organization. All the white people in Lesotho the few that there are with the exception of the Peace Corps Volunteers all more or less have their own vehicles and usually nice one’s at that. As for us though we ride the taxies. The volunteers have been here long enough to give us a stereotype one I myself often fit into and use myself to identify other Volunteers. We almost always travel by taxies, have big backpacks filled with stuff, and carry water bottles. Having met many of the volunteers but not all of them I like any Basotho when seeing a white person with a big backpack riding in a taxi sipping on their own water bottle can almost for sure be assured that it is a Peace Corps Volunteer.

So maybe it is that the Basotho can readily recognize us from any tourist and have got use to us on the taxies that we get no special treatment when in the taxies. First of all let me say that what Americans call and think of as taxis and what the Basotho call and think of taxies varies significantly. The taxi in Lesotho is a van with usually about three long bench seats in it. This van if having seat belts would have seatbelts for twelve people including the driver but the van does not have seatbelts. Not only that but it does not have nice carpet or even any carpet and the same goes with the headliner. The seats are often ripped and instead of spending the money on fixing the seats they put in a stereo and I can tell you it is loud. Hopefully the sliding door is fastened well but I have heard the stories about the doors falling off and have seen many a cheap weld job on the sliding doors where it is apparent they at one time had not been connected. Luckily the door has not ever fallen off while I was in the taxi. And some how the twelve-seater van very easily can become twenty and so often does if not more. On the few times that it has got above twenty I am not even to sure how many more then twenty it gets up to. Sometimes I might be like twenty-two that I can count. There could have been another one or two stashed away though. It gets especially bad when we have the big backpacks that I mentioned and the only place to put it is on your lap and when it is crowded some of that space rolls over into the person next to you. It is amazing how people squish in. First of all every seat that is designed for three now sits four and this is even with the fat women I have been telling you about. It is almost more than I can take to be squished in a seat with four people and on either side of me is a fat woman who is invariably wearing some kind of clothing that is really hot. I can’t help but think just how bad it is to be that intimate with someone I don’t even know. Sometimes I feel like a sandwich (literally) it is like I am being smothered from both sides. To make it worse it is very possible as I have explained that this is only the part of the people that are sitting. There are also people standing to so while being squished from either side it is also very possible that some one is standing where my feet are supposed to be and you know what that means. It means there but is in my face. Yep, I am serious the first time it is very uncomfortable and it is not always like this most of the times it is fine but there are the times when this does definitely happen.

To make things worse even if it is a hot day and I am crammed packed in the taxi and they stop to pick someone else up and I can’t help but wonder, “where is this person going to go” we are already packed in like sardines in a can. But they do fit the person in somehow in someway. Sometimes though the person might have an animal with them so instead of a person sitting with a bag on their lap there they are holding chicken hopefully it won’t get worse than this but the volunteers are filled with stories about goats and sheep.

And as you can guess there is no air-conditioner. Now when I came with the expectations of it being hot I also expected no air-conditioners what I did expect and was disappointed in is that every one would have every window possible open or down. Well that is right I was wrong the windows stay up and open. I just am amazed with how hot it is and so many people and they will not open the window. Sometimes if I have a window seat I open it just a little just enough so the air blows on my face and not anyone else but I dare not open it too much or they will tell me to close it. The thing is that there is a superstition here that if the windows are opened you will get sick. In a country where one third of the people have HIV a little cold really could kill and so they try not to open the windows because they are afraid they will catch a cold. What they need to be doing though if you ask me is not worrying about the windows and worrying about wearing a condom when they have sex so that they won’t get it in the first place but obviously that is not what is happening. I am seriously not exaggerating at all either when I say that people live in denial about what has happened and why so many people are dying. Nine time out of ten a person would much rather say that one of their family members died of something like having the window open in the taxi and caught a bad called then admit that what really happened is that they had Aids.

So I am uncomfortable a lot of the times in the taxi and while sometime I got right on a taxi right away I also could of waited for upwards of an hour just to endure such conditions. The taxies here go on there own schedule. There is no set schedule. They come when they come and they leave when the driver feels like he has crammed enough people into the taxi. I might take five minutes or thirty for it to fill up and I assure you the driver will wait most of the time. So it very well might take me two hours to do a trip one day and the next day on the exact same trip might take three hours. It really just all depends.

Invariably too there is often some drunk man on the taxi as people here drink a lot and I mean a lot it seems like the men drink sometimes as much as the women eat. And he wants to talk to me. Oh it happens that a lot of the times people want to talk to me but it those times when the drunk man wants to know, “where I am from, Where I am going, What do I do, so on and so on and if I will drink with him?” I get use to it but it can get frustrating.

For the times though like that I do have to say there are other amusing times. Like the time that I was on a non-overcrowded taxi. I was in a seat and to my right there was a large woman and to my left got on board a young, pretty, school girl. She was maybe about seventeen years old. Immediately the older lady on my right starts with the questions,” where are you from, where are you going…?” And then gets to the are you married question. After finding out I was not she was like, “what about the girl next to you, she is pretty, huh?” she asks. I told her she was and then the lady went on the assault. I felt like a guy trying to buy a new car with this salesman doing everything they could to sell me a car. But it was not a car it was the girl sitting next to me who by this time was very flushed red or as red as a Basotho can get. Now I mind you that the young girl and the old woman sitting next to me did not even know each other but yet the older woman was intent on me marrying the young pretty girl next to me. So, I was very taken back but the thing that is even more amazing is that the young girl next to me while being very embarrassed actually gave me the impression that she would have married me. Can you believe that?

Anyway I hope everyone is doing well and I will talk to you more soon, maybe sometime else I might write about the taxi ranks instead of the taxi rides that are also just as interesting. I am also enclosing a picture of my night watchman unaware that he is getting ready to have his picture taken and plan on sending a picture of one of the taxies maybe next time, Jeff


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