Who knew it would be so easy to catch a taxi in the middle of Africa? Not in a city, not even in a town, but in a village ... a small village up in the mountains, literally at the end of the road.

For that matter, you can just hang by the side of the highway out in the middle of Nowheresville and a taxi will be by in a matter of minutes. And if there's any way the driver feels he can bend the laws of physics to squeeze in one more person, you've got a ride.

People are astonishingly tolerant about, say, having a 56-year-old muzungu cram himself into an already over-stuffed backseat to sit on their laps. In turn, I've had several people sit on me. You get used to it.

There are taxis all over the place. People have to get from here to there, and hardly anyone owns a vehicle (unless you're a mucky-muck working for the U.N., UNICEF, Save the Children, CARE, Peace Corps, etc., in which case you're chauffeured around in a ginormous, sparkly new SUV with your org's logo plastered on the sides). The boda-bodas --- motorcycle taxis --- are another story. You ride those for one of 5 reasons:

  • You have absolutely no alternative and you feel it's a good day to die (or to be maimed);
  • You're young enough that you're yet to be convinced of the whole mortality thing;
  • You're psychotic;
  • You wish to become psychotic;
  • Did I already mention you feel it's a good day to die?
Getting a taxi here is not much of a problem. But getting in the taxi can be. Exiting can also be a challenge.

The other day I was in a town about an hour away from my home, so I went to where the taxis were massing and had an amiable albeit lengthy argument with eight or ten drivers, simultaneously, about what would be a reasonable fee for being taken to the outer limits of human endurance while at the same time being moved closer to my home at a speed of 80 to 90 miles per hour (dropping to a more leisurely pace to avoid goats and cattle) ... during which time I'd be as close as one can get to another person or persons without actually impregnating them.

We settled on 4000 shillings, about $2.

The arrangement inside the chariot I chose (an 1851 Toyota Corolla that had seen action in the Crimean War) rivaled the stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera" --- one of the finest bits those great saints of surrealism ever captured on film (I'm sure it's on YouTube. Stop reading this and go find it immediately).

Crammed in the backseat were four women, two babies, and a toddler. One woman held a bag of charcoal on her lap. Really. And three men, one of whom was me --- 6'1" 200+ pounds --- in front. Cool, let's roll.

The driver starts the car and aims it toward our destination. And off we go. For about a block. Because you need gas to go on an hour's drive, don't you? Yes, of course, so let's go find a gas station.

But wait. Let's try to get the radio tuned in first. Nevermind, it won't tune in, so we'll just turn the volume way up instead. Is it me or is it so hot in here we could all pass out in a matter of minutes?

Windows down? No, only the driver's window goes down. The rest have been stuck closed since the Crimean unpleasantness. Actually, "Rhinestone Cowboy" sounds better filtered through a thick layer of static. Turn it up more --- good idea.

OK, we're gassed up, let's hit it! Is that a reggae version of "Ode to Billie Joe?" Can't tell, let's turn up the radio some more. No, I'm pretty sure it's UB40's cover of "I Got You Babe." Oops, one of the babies just got sick. I don't know why. The interior temperature is only 134 degrees and the 18 percent of the exhaust that's not getting sucked into the passenger compartment is going right out the tailpipe. Kid's no trouper. Don't coddle him. Better yet, pass him up here, cause we're picking up one more guy (I swear) and he can hold the li'l fussbudget. Which he does. Turns out he's the father.

We finally did get underway, but things went like that for the entire trip. At one point a huge baboon ran across the road on his way to plunder a maize field, but for some reason those in the car who were still conscious paid little attention.

--- From Uganda Time
Douglas Cruickshank
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