Where I live – in Outpost of quite some considerable note – there are none of Africa’s characteristic local taxis – matatus as they are called in Kenya (because immediately post independence entrepreneurs bought used military vehicles to ferry people from the suburbs to jobs in the city and passengers paid tatu – the Swahili word for 3 – cents a ride) or dala-dalas as they’re called in Tanzania beacuse, you’ve guessed it, the swahili word dala is jargon for five and original journeys were just five cents.
Despite providing affordable transport, matatus or dala-dalas – which have improbable names like God Is Good or Allah is Great (depending on the owner’s religious leaning, presumably) or X-Factor or – bizarrely – Guantanamo Bay – are not popular for any other reason; their drivers have no manners, pulling off the road at random without indication, pulling back onto it on a whim without use of such superflous instruments as rear view or side mirrors (those are for driver – who wears aviator shades – to admire himself in), they drive recklessly and overload, squeezing passengers, luggage, goats and chickens into the airless scrum that is their interior. I have heard stories of matatu drivers reading the paper as they drive, or squeezing an extra punter between themselves and driver’s door.
But in Outpost, because its so tiny (nowhere to go) and demand therefore almost non-existent (nobody to go anywhere), matatus/dala-dalas – mercifully for the rest of us that use the roads here – do not feature at all. Not one. There are old fashioned taxis, with yellow lights on top to indicate whether they’re free to hire or not. And there are bicycles. The alternative bush dala-dala.
I am reliably informed – by James, the garden boy – that a ride on a bicycle dala dala (matatu equivalent) is 200 shillings. More, granted, than five cents. But only about 8 pence at today’s rate.
Safer, less crowded and brilliantly airconditioned.