Getting around

posted in: Life in Ethiopia | 2

One of the old blue and white taxis

Like the vast majority of cities anywhere in the world, Addis Ababa has a serious traffic problem.  Of course, there is the sheer number to start with, and these are divided, as with so much of Ethiopia, markedly into rich and poor.  There are a fair number of huge SUVs, as there are, increasingly, everywhere, though these are hugely outnumbered by a vast number of battered and scraped cars.  Most of these are taxis of one kind and another, with the older blue and white models gradually being superseded by newer, smarter ones decked out in green and yellow.  But actually, most of the other cars seem to be taxis too, or what we used to call minicabs – ordinary cars with a “Ride” sticker in the back, with the phone numbers 6090, or 2694.  They are a sort of poor man’s Uber (and actually I think some at least operate from an app, but I haven’t needed to explore that option yet.)  Still more are just private cars, with the driver negotiating a price.  My landlady organised a “taxi” to take me to one of the big supermarkets, but in fact it was simply the son of one of her neighbours.

But the negotiation aspect seems to prevail whichever one of these various options one takes.  When I first arrived in Addis, the man at the airport taxi desk told me most firmly that I was not to enter into negotiation with the driver, but to insist that it operated on a meter.  But since his next move was to take me to the airport entrance doors, point out where the taxi booth was, and then leave me to it, I soon discovered that this instruction was pointless, since neither the young lady in charge of the booth, nor any taxi driver, would accept such a restriction.  Still, my initial insistence on a meter did have the effect of lowering the price from the 1500 birre I was first quoted to a more acceptable 900.

There are also buses, but these did not appear to be well-used, and I have not yet found any evidence of any route map, not one that I can access anyway.  It can’t be random, of course, but from my point of view it might as well be.

Far more popular, in that they appear to be used by local people to a huge extent, is the fleet of minibuses, most of which are seriously falling apart, so far as I can tell.  They are equally inaccessible to me, of course, for it seems the only way anyone knows where they are going is to listen to the young man who acts as a conductor, who jumps off and yells out the destination in (to me) incomprehensible Amaric.  More often than not, these young men carry with them a stool, so that they have somewhere to sit when it is in motion; the seats are for the paying passengers.  These are packed to the gills, making for a most uncomfortable ride, I would imagine (but then, it’s not much fun being packed into a tube train in London either, and at least these people get a seat.)

It is to my great relief that, most of the time, I am able to simply observe all of this disinterestedly.  I am very pleased that, with the aid of Google maps, Val was able to procure for me an apartment within walking distance of the Film Academy, a walk I am now very much used to.  Does it make my life here somewhat parochial?  Absolutely (though I am gradually expanding my horizons.

2 Responses

  1. Pamela Blair

    I remember those minivans when I was in Tunisia in 2005. We did find a station, an ancient garage where twenty or so minivans were parked, most of them partially filled until the last sardine entered the can and then took off. We took one down to a city in the south near the desert, where we found a non-licensed driver for a day trip, to take us to a ghost town in the desert. After such an easy ride, we asked him to drive us around Tunisia. We then rented a car and he drove it, to places we’d never have gone had he not been the driver. We became pretty good friends in the couple of weeks we were with him. I wonder what it would be like for you to hop on a minivan and take a round trip, to wherever it goes…could be fun.

  2. Krystyna Hewitt

    It’s fascinating to read an on the ground report of daily city life in a country so different to ours. Thank you.

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