The trials an tribulations of travel by taxi

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EXPERIENCING THE COLORFUL CABBIES OF ZAMBIA

by LAURA ROBINSON – 



Laura Robinson works as administrative support for the IHQ AIDS team in Africa. She is located in Nairobi, Kenya.


New York City taxi drivers are tame compared to the cabbies I met in Lusaka, Zambia. I am sure if you think hard enough about it you too have had an intense or strange experience in a cab (especially those of you living in NYC!) but I am almost sure none of you have had some drama in EVERY taxi that you rode in. Well such was my experience in Zambia!

Taxi #1:
It is the middle of the afternoon and April, my boss, and I decide that we need to pick up a few things at the market. We bump into Ben and Fortune (a couple of guys I work with) and they too are heading into town, but a different area than we are. We agree to share a cab. The front desk at the hotel calls one of the millions of taxi companies and within nano-seconds there is a vehicle waiting for us. We hop in and the ride is smooth (this shocks me because in Nairobi we would have been flying at about 120 mph over potholes the size of Nevada).

As we are driving we begin discussing politics. Both Ben and Fortune are from Zimbabwe and the political situation there is awful! So as we are discussing the current situation the taxi driver begins to shout at us “Mugabe is a hero! Give us back our land! Get rid of the white people! Mugabe is our savior!” April and I look at each other and I begin to laugh! I have never ever felt any racial tension anywhere in Africa, not even when I spent two weeks in Zimbabwe and here is this taxi driver from Zambia (another country) shouting about things that he doesn’t know much about. Ben, who is sitting in the front seat looks at the guy and says “Man you have NO idea what you are shouting about!” The taxi pulls up to the market and April and I get out. I look at her and say “Well that was interesting.” I had no idea how interesting things were going to get!

The taxi pulls up to the market and April and I get out. I look at her and say “Well that was interesting.” I had no idea how interesting things were going to get!

Taxi #2:
Two days after the first incident Dr. Ian Campbell decides he wants to take April, Ben and myself out for a nice dinner to discuss Salvation Army business (we are in a multi-agency meeting). We call for a taxi and a young man in a rather beat up car pulls up and says he will take us. Ian begins negotiating the price, an agreement is made and we get in the taxi. The guy tries to start it but it won’t turn over.

So he says, “Right! Everyone out and give it a push.” April begins to laugh hysterically. Ben, Ian and I get out and push, the taxi starts, and we head down the road. Two minutes later the driver pulls into a gas station to ask for directions…after a few minutes we are back on the road and we get to the restaurant Ian has chosen but it is closed. We finally head to the Holiday Inn and the guy charges us double, despite the fact that we had to keep pushing his vehicle to get it started!

Taxi # 3:
April and I go out for dinner, since the food at the hotel is pretty bad. We have a nice supper of pizza and soda and leave the money on the table as we walk out. We are walking back to the hotel and there are three street boys following us begging for money. I had a large sum of money in large bills in my backpack and I was getting a little nervous at their persistence. We walk a little faster into the parking lot of a store and suddenly a fight breaks out right there in front of us.

Now we are both a little freaked and we decide we should get a taxi. As we are walking to the taxi we hear someone shouting, “Hey miss, excuse me!” I turn around and the waitress from the restaurant is chasing us. It turns out we had left a 1,000 note instead of a 10,000 note (the Zambian currency exchanges at 5,000 kwacha to the US dollar), so now there is a fight going on across the street, five street boys following us begging, an angry waitress who feels ripped off, and a partridge in a pear tree (sorry, got a little carried away).

We get in the taxi and lock the doors, find the money we owe the waitress, hand it to her through the window, give the street boys a few kwacha, and ask the taxi to take us to the hotel. We are sitting there and I begin to laugh at what an adventure the past five minutes had been when the taxi driver says, “What time shall I pick you up tomorrow?”
April says, “We aren’t going anywhere tomorrow.”
He replies, “You must be, you went out tonight.”
April says, “Well we aren’t.”
“Well then I will just come by and see you.”
To that I reply, “But we don’t need a taxi tomorrow.”
He answers, “No, I won’t come with my taxi I will just come to spend time with you.”

April responds sharply, “No thanks, we don’t want to see you again” and I pay him as we exit the vehicle. He looks over and says kindly, “OK, God bless you.” It is interesting, there aren’t many times in one’s life when someone makes a pass at you and you shoot him or her down and they actually bless you for it.

Taxi # 4:
I am finally, after two weeks of meandering through Zambia, on my way home. I am sick of living out of a suitcase. I am running dangerously low on clean clothes and I am ready to sleep in my own bed! So I call for a taxi to come and pick me up and take me to the airport. The guy at the front desk bargains with the driver and we settle on 60,000 kwacha (which is a fair price—I was expecting to pay close to 100,000).

I get in the car and off we go. I sit quietly in the back, not wanting any drama because of my history with Zambian cabbies. So far so good. I see a sign for the airport, only 10 more kilometers and we are there. Oh no, spoke too soon! We get pulled over for speeding (another shock to me because in Kenya the traffic police NEVER pull you over unless they need some lunch money).

The cabbie gets out and a discussion begins. I sit there not understanding a word and not really that bothered; I have gotten used to these bizarre situations. So the taxi driver gets back in the cab and asks me to give him 50,000 kwacha. I look at him like you must be kidding. “You were the one speeding—why do I have to pay?” He gets out ticked off cause I wouldn’t pay his fine. He leaves his spare tire with the police and promises to pay once he gets some money.

He takes me the 10 kilometers and when we arrive at the airport he says “That will be 100,000 kwacha.”

“No it won’t! You agreed on 60,000 and I am not paying any more than that.” I reply bitterly.
“Well, it normally costs 100,000!” he shouts.
“You should have said that at the hotel then! I am only paying 60,000!” I say, getting a bit aggressive myself.

“Well the next time you come here you won’t find a taxi for this price!” He is getting really heated now. I reply coolly, “Don’t worry about next time, I will deal with that when the time comes. We are talking about today. Here is your 60,000. Thank you.”
All I hear is muttering in a language I can’t understand, though I have a pretty good idea what he was saying…

So there you have it. Africa is not for the faint at heart. BELIEVE me, and if you don’t…ask my mom! I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. Zambia is a beautiful, safe, friendly country. I had a wonderful time there and would go back in a heartbeat—I would just reconsider taking a cab to get anywhere!


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