Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Wheels on the Combi go Round and Round

Here in Botswana I do not have a vehicle.  I don’t really see much of a need for one.  I walk to work.  I walk to the mall and the grocery store each week to get the necessities.  If I need to go somewhere that is too far to walk I take a taxi or more often than not a combi.

We don’t have large passenger busses here.  Anyone interested in taking public transportation uses a combi, which is a minibus.  And in reality, it isn’t even a bus.  It is a van.  Combis are small vans which can hold about 14 passengers plus a driver. However, these are not nearly as large or as safe as the 15 passenger vans you think of in the U.S.
While combis can technically accommodate 14 people, often they hold many more than that.  The driver only makes 3.5 pula per person (which is equivalent to about 40 cents) so they try to pack their combis as full as possible.  As a result, they often look like clown cars.  It’s not uncommon to have 18 people in a combi.  But the record (at least in my experience) was a combi I rode about a week ago which transported 22 people simultaneously in one trip.

There are certain rules when riding in a combi:
1.      Don’t speak to anyone, even if you board with a friend.
2.      Don’t complain about having to share personal space with those around you.
3.      Pay attention and request your stop within a reasonable amount of time.  If you don’t call out “Wea me mo stopong” (Next stop please) in time, you will have to wait until the following stop.

The interesting thing about the combis is that many of them have names.   For instance there is “Walala Wasala” (You snooze, you lose), The Mamas and the Papas, and my favorite: Ninjas. Ninjas was recently listed for sale which I find particularly hilarious as the back windshield now reads “Ninjas for Sale.”  Each time I climb out of Ninjas I have to restrain myself from shouting, “Yi-ya!” while doing my best karate chop and kicking a faux nemesis mid-air.
To give you a visual, here is the combi stop in my neighborhood:

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