By Adam Cohn KF14, Rwanda
Poda-Poda, Tro-Tro, Marshrutka, Jitney, Bemo, Bush Taxi. It seems that they have different, funny names in each locale, but they all refer to the same concept: the shared taxi. A share taxi is a vehicle which travels around a fixed route and either departs when it’s totally full, or allows customers to hop on and off wherever they want. In Rwanda, they are also a zeitgeist of what’s hip now; an opportunity to unabashedly tell the world that you have the “Bieber Fever” or that you are a die-hard Eminem fan.
Share taxis here in Rwanda range from larger, roomier Coaster buses to the loud and attention-seeking minibuses. The minibuses are a much more entertaining way to go. Similar to Timor’s bemos which Stephanie mentioned in her article , the minibuses in Rwanda are where the action is. Each one is navigated by a driver, while a “bus conductor” manages the money and calls out to potential passengers to ensure that the interior is always packed. In Addis Ababa Ethiopia, I loved listening to the conductors heading toward Bolé road shouting “bolebolebolebole” as the taxis drove by.
I met the owner of a minibus in Kigali which was decorated in luminescent green and purple paint and paid homage to Canadian Degrassi Jr. High actor-turned-rapper, Drake. As I marveled at the paint job, he explained to me that minibus painting is a relatively new phenomenon here in Rwanda. Apparently minibuses in neighboring Congo have been custom painted for some time, and until a few years ago a minibus owner would have to get their ride painted there. Artists have recently started cropping up in Kigali, and now each minibus tries to outdo the next in terms of decoration.
As Stephanie learned in Timor, the minibus owner in Kigali believes that having a hip paint job will attract more customers. He confirmed that particularly schoolchildren will wait until a minibus comes along which reflects their taste in music or sports. For 25,000 Rwandan Francs ($40), the owner can get a fresh, custom paint job, so when Bieber gets replaced by the next teen idol, Kigali’s minibuses will reflect that trend. While the cost of a new minibus would likely exceed the maximum Kiva loan size, I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw a minibus owner requesting a loan to paint a Rebecca Black minibus next year.
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Aside from being a personal statement, another benefit of traveling by minibuses is that it is a somewhat “green” way to go. Back in Seattle, I am guilty of commuting daily as a single occupant in my personal car. I use that same car to head into the city and drive in circles looking for a parking spot. Kiva Fellow Caree Edson reports that the marshrutkas in Armenia can hold around ten passengers comfortably, and commonly carry double that number with many passengers standing. I’d estimate that the typical Kigali minibus is stuffed with 20 people at rush hour. A minibus is always available and is always a carpool.
The crowded seating inside a minibus has a few benefits. If the passengers can communicate over the decoration-corresponding music, a great amount of interpersonal interaction takes place. Politics are debated with strangers, potential boyfriends and girlfriends are identified, and friendships are made; all impossibilities when traveling alone in my Jetta back home.
Minibuses are so crowded due to the economics of necessity. They are found where affordable transportation is needed and are packed to the limits of local liability to keep costs down. I’m told that gas prices have skyrocketed back home; perhaps I should be considering launching a share taxi service in Seattle when I return!
While I consider whether a coffee-celebrating or carbon-reduction-boasting paint job would attract more riders in Seattle, I invite you to take a little minibus trip around the world with these photos provided by Kiva Fellows.