Waiting For The Taxi

Monday, 26 September – The first sign of the taxi is the rising cloud of dust, advancing quickly down the gravel road, crossing the bridge over the dry streambed. Until now, no one waiting has demonstrated any impatience. After all, we’ve only been waiting for about half an hour. A good rule of thumb is to factor in a wait time equivalent to the time you expect to spend in the taxi. When the taxi comes into view, the crowd moves into action, rushing into the road. Someone holds an index finger up to indicate we are traveling to town. The taxi driver slams on the brakes, stopping inches from where I stand, the cloud of dust settling behind him like the wake of a boat coming to dock. After a quick-paced negotiation in Setswana, of which I understand “going to town,” the crowd piles into the taxi.
This is no American taxi. The vehicle is an old van, beaten up from tearing down the rutted gravel road and people slamming the sliding door. A piece of 12-gauge fencing wire attached to the door’s latch serves as a handle. Still, the tires don’t appear totally bald and the driver appears sober. I don’t ask for much. I join the crowd and pile in. The passenger in the front seat is expected to collect fares and distribute change, a responsibility I want no part of. Instead, I find a seat between two gogos, a term of affection for elderly womean. Though they are a little, well, large, I feel pretty safe nestled between them. In the event of a collision, I won’t be going anywhere—and I don’t have to worry too much about them harassing me. Fortunately, the taxi fills quickly; taxi drivers do not begin the trip until the taxi is full, even if this means circling the village for half an hour to look for more passengers. Soon we are on the main road, weaving in and out right and left lanes, as well as the shoulder, jockeying with old bakkies, public buses, and other taxis for position on the road.
We arrive to town without a hitch, switching to a local taxi at the main rank. I head to the shops, taking too long to finish my shopping. By the time I finish, it’s late in the day: almost 18h00. I probably should not have waited so late to return home from my shopping town, but here I am. The taxi rank—typically bustling with men braaiing skewers of meet, people struggling with armfuls of bags, and young boys hawking sweet, fruit-flavored ice—is nearly empty. When I feel someone bump my elbow, I immediately go on alert. My hands go to my pockets to check my valuables. The man is in front of me now: about my age, but a bit taller than I am. He takes me by the belt and gets in my face. So this is what a tsotsi, those young criminals who have adopted a gangster aesthetic, looks like. “One day, they’re going to grab you like this,” he almost whispers, “And what are you going to do?” I think he is just trying to scare me. I react, grabbing him by his shirtfront, giving him a rough shove and responding, “Get away!”
I turn to the two guys behind me. Neither look familiar. They each shrug. “This guy,” one asks, “You know him, Thabo?”
I shake my head. “Never met him.”
“Hmm,” he offers in reply. He points to the other side of the rank. “Taxi for LEB that way.”
I nod in thanks. “Sharp, nay?” I shoulder by backpack, and head for my taxi.

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8 responses to “Waiting For The Taxi

  1. Keen senses, agile and alert…bravo Thabo!
    As always, awesome writing Sir THB!
    Miss you….

  2. Great posts. Hope you’re enjoying your time on the other side of the globe. I’ve been doing a little blogging myself (http://devintonhaeuser.com). Miss you around the school. So different this year, a lot of new teachers, no more Mr Harrelson :(. Quite sure I’ve figured out the meaning of your blog title by now. I’m assuming you grew up at 200 North Thompson Street in ATL.

    Hope to hear from you soon + enjoy your time in S. Africa.

    • Hi Devin, I heard SDS lost Mr. Harrelson. He’s a great teacher; what a loss. I will have to check out your blog now that I have more regular access to Internet. Glad to hear you have taken the initiative to write for yourself. I also miss SDS – such a wonderful community to have been a part of.

      Wrong on the title! 200 N. Thompson St is the address of the house I lived in with some of my best friends while we were still at Davidson College.

      Take care, Devin.

  3. Howell,

    I had to giggle at your description of the ladies in the taxi. I enjoy reading your blog and seeing your beautiful photographs. Your students still miss you here and ask about you frequently. I am teaching mostly Upper School Latin, but I have managed to keep a foot (or maybe it’s just a toe) in the Middle School by teaching 7th class Spanish. The middle school is not the same without you, Sam, and Merianna this year. Take care of yourself and we’ll keep thinking about you here at SDS.

    Sara

    • Sara! It’s great to hear from you. I really miss my SDS family…:( But, I love the community I am now part of. Glad to hear you’ve managed to continue in middle school, even if it’s just a little bit. The Upper School was just jealous and wanted you too :)

      Thanks for reading the blog; I appreciate the business. I am trying to publish a post at least once a month. Photos from a game reserve and the Apartheid Museum coming soon.

      Stay well! Say hello to my students for me. I fully expect you to continue unofficial faculty meetings at off-campus facilities ;)

      • Seems like you are posting a lot more recently! The post about the Apartheid Museum was very interesting. I will most definitely say hi to your students and, although I have been extremely busy, off-campus meetings are continuing with regularity! Take care and stay well!

      • Ha ha, atta girl. Good to know you’re keeping the good folks at Sonny’s in business. Glad you liked the post on the Apartheid Museum. The legacy of apartheid is apparent everywhere, but especially in school.

        I am posting with more regularity now that I have a BlackBerry (I get mobile broadband in my pit latrine but not running water) and now that I have settled into the routine of village life. Keep reading – my goal is to post at least weekly.

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