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Taxis in Mali


From: Melissa Enderle (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Mar 31 2002 - 02:18:06 PST

    Greetings from Mali, where it has graduated from being very hot to what
I would like to term as blasted hot. After putting out the thermometer for
about 10 minutes, the temperature was 107°. Just imagine what it must have
been right out in the direct sun!
    Because many of the overseas hires teachers don't have a car here in
Bamako, we take public transportation. The idea of taking a crowded baché
shoulder to shoulder with sweaty bodies doesn't appeal to me, so a taxi is
much more palatable. Rather than try to hunt down a taxi each time we want
to go somewhere, we have chosen to use a taxi driver who has proven to be
    That's where Mr. Coulibaly comes in. He is a quiet, reserved fellow who
doesn't get hyped up or upset by crazy drivers, animals blocking the road,
craters in the dirt roads, or shoppers who decide to stay a little longer
than planned. He (like most Malians) does not have a telephone, so we make
plans the previous time we are with him. Mr. Coulibaly always shows up on
time - not Malian time, which can be up to several hours later. We willingly
pay a little more for his courteous, timely service, but don't feel like we
are taken advantage of simply because we are toubabs - white people.
    Riding in Mr. Coulibaly's yellow Renault taxi is a memorable experience.
Like most cars in Mali, it is in need of repair. In the back seat, the doors
provide you a choice. One door allows you to crank open the window for "air"
(albeit the dusty polluted Bamako air), but you have no door handle with
which to shut the door. The other door has no window crank, but you can shut
the door properly from the inside. Depending on the luck of the draw, you
will get the door which will on that day open both from the inside and
    This past Monday, after finishing our errands, we jumped in the taxi.
The grinding noise we heard on the way there seemed to be louder. Within
blocks after starting, the car stopped. Unlike previous times where a push
would help start the car, the engine would not start. Coasting to a less
busy road, Mr. Coulibaly parked the car and then proceeded to look at the
spark plugs. A man strolling by immediately stopped at the taxi. Wearing a
strange hat, psychedelic shirt and a mysterious grin, he assessed the
situation and paused. Taking off his hat, he outstretched his hands in a
"Y", seemingly asking for strength and power. He continued his "duty" until
Mr. Coulibaly closed the hood after changing the sparkplugs. Mission
accomplished, the man smiled, put on his hat, and walked on.
     Proceeding cautiously on, we were now within walking distance of our
homes - should the car break down again. Deciding to take advantage of
having transportation, a teacher asked Mr. Coulibaly if he could make a
quick stop at the small grocery store ahead. Although he would love to, Mr.
Coulibaly wasn't sure if he should, especially with the traffic police
nearby. Explaining further, Mr. Coulibaly admitted that he wasn't sure if
his car could turn left here. With the lane clear, the taxi successfully
turned left, proceeding towards the grocery store. Safely at home, we gave
Mr. Coulibaly a little extra money towards the repair of his taxi.
Like most things in Mali, even taxi driving is an adventure.....
                   | Melissa Enderle |
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Melissa Enderle