Things Learned on Car Rapides
We ride a car rapide at least 6 days a week. It’s the cheapest form of public transportation—around the size of a van and packed to the gills with people. (For a review on the transportation options available to us go here.) Here are some of the things we learned as we rode…
New Things Can Be Scary!
When we started to take car rapides it was INTIMIDATING! Lots of people yelling what was to us incomprehensible nonsense. The places that they present as destination options are not the names as found on a map. They don’t stick around long enough to make detailed inquires. People are pushing to get on or off. We didn’t know how much we should pay or if we were getting ripped off. But eventually we started to get a feel for how it works, and now it seems pretty normal! We know the name of our route, how much it should cost and the general drill. (Note: the process being normal does not mean we feel any less squished while riding.)
Nancy is Scary!
No really! I mean terrifying! With how different everything is to us, imagine how strange we can look to little kids and babies! We have had babies hiding their faces from us and one boy absolutely refused to sit by Nancy! (And by ‘refused’, we mean actually throwing a fit in the middle of the car rapide from sheer terror.)
There’s Always Room for One More!
Nancy says this is the unofficial motto of West Africa! Supposedly there are limits by law on how many people they can have on a car rapide, but for the most part they fit at least 20 people sitting in the back (5 per bench—benches made to fit 4, of course). Often there will be another 4–6 people standing in the middle or hanging off the end.
Apprentis Have the Hardest Jobs.
These young men are in training (apprenti = apprentice). It’s their job to get passengers, collect fares, and signal to the driver when to stop and go. They jump on and off while it is still moving, hang on the end of the car rapide, and wade through traffic. While the car rapide is crashing over pot holes, swerving through traffic or pedestrians, and stopping suddenly to avoid an accident; they move through the car, collect money, and deal with people. If several car rapides are at the same stop each apprenti needs to yell louder and be a better go-getter than the others. Nancy’s had two fighting over her, pulling on her arms to get her as a passenger. We’ve also had an apprenti cross the busy road, ask where we were going, then help the kids across the road and stopped traffic so we could get on his car rapide.
Never Trust the Apprenti!
OK, so we have had some that were pretty decent. But there are also those who deliberately mess with the passengers—and not just us naïve foreigners. They will try to inflate the fare, or “forget” to give you your change. So we try to minimize our chances of being ripped off by giving exact change when we can or holding out a hand for change even if we don’t know the price!
Then there is the “I’ll tell you what I think you want to hear” phenomenon. We once asked the apprenti before we got on if he was going to the stop we wanted. “Get on, get on.” So we get on, we travel down the road, Michael pays for our stop, and the apprenti walks away. Then someone pipes up, “Did you want the this stop? This doesn’t go to there, it turns!” So we got off and had to get another car rapide. Live and learn!
Everyone Loves Kids!
We have seen many a person take a kid on their lap so they can sit somewhere. People are always willing to help the kids off and on the car rapide or even give up their seat so a mother can sit down with a baby. On a side note, kids are a great conversation starter! Many times stone faced strangers who show no interest in talking to us warm up when they see our kids.
Mini Adventures Can Be Fun!
There have been a few times when it is busy; all the car rapides are packed and people are grabbing the end as it drives away. We’ve been guilty of this! It can be quite the rush to jog up to a moving vehicle and jump on! Especially when many people are doing it at once. Also, we have had a few times where we have started to step off and then the driver decided to keep going. Overall the experiences we have had with public transportation end up being hassles that we are grateful for. We have had many chances to learn and experience the culture in ways that we would not have been able to by simply driving everywhere ourselves.
French is Not the End!
It is becoming ever clearer to us why we will need to learn a third language to communicate well here. Even if we could speak French fluently we still wouldn’t understand everything around us. Most of what is spoken on the car rapides (and elsewhere in town) is not French but Wolof. The greetings and conversations and arguments we hear around us are often in languages other than French! Even though the trade language is French and many people do not speak it fluently, it is not their heart language! (Note: it is still very good to know French as it is the language of communication for many countries here in West Africa, and our starting point for building relationships.)
We were given a fitting word of encouragement the other day as we were reminded that as much as our French study dominates our lives right now, it is not the end goal! We are here to build relationship, invest our lives in people, and eventually share with them the good news the Lord has given us. Stuck in the day to day grind of French sessions and endless listening review, it can be easy to lose sight of this! Keep us in your prayers that we would keep our eyes off of the hardships around us and on our Lord and the work He has called us to.
Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers,
Michael & Nancy Dore
(with Titus, Emma, Micah, and Isaac!)