The capital of Niger has a few paved streets, but most are sand. I would guess that about 85% of the cars on the roads are taxis. Taxi rides in Niger are not for the faint of heart. There are sort of rules about driving, but mostly I think they’re kind of suggestions. It was truly amazing how close the cars came to each other and to pedestrians. Drivers make good use of their horns, and they don’t hesitate to stop and discuss each others’ driving abilities. The funny part is that they truly are discussions– they sit in their cars and talk about who’s a better driver or who had the right-of-way.
Thursday December 10
The other day Eric and I were in a taxi that got rear-ended. It wasn’t a very hard hit (we were by the market and the road was so congested that no one could go very fast), but it was kind of funny ’cause after it happened the other driver pulled up next to our driver, and they greeted each other and then our driver said “I think my car is dented.” and the other guy said “I think mine is too” and then they both said “Ok, bye!” It was all quite congenial.
Intersections are sort of like free-for-alls; sometimes taxis would squeeze up next to other taxis waiting to pull out, so when there was a break in the traffic it was like the starting gate of a horserace- everyone slams on the gas and tries to get out front, and then people fall in behind the leader. There were also motorcycles, donkey carts, mopeds, bicycles, herds of goats, camels, and an abundance of people walking along and in the streets, which all made the rides even more exciting.
Most of the cars were Toyotas (I have no idea why) and an amusing number of them had stickers in the back window that said “My Toyota is fantastic!” Most of the windshields were starred or cracked, the interior panels were often missing, occasionally you could roll the windows up or down, the seats weren’t very well taken care of (but if they were securely attached to the car, it was a big plus), and seatbelts were basically non-existent. Many of them required a push-start, which was common enough so that a taximan just had to holler for help and anyone nearby would pitch in to get the car rolling and then go back to their business. A normal taxi ride in Niamey costs 150 cfa (about 30 cents), but if you’re going all the way across the city or if it’s really late at night the fare rises to 300 cfa. Fares are per person, too, so a taximan is constantly picking up and dropping off passengers who are going in the same general direction.