Squeezing people into taxis is par for the course in Cameroon. As cabs approach, you shout your destination to the driver and if you get the nod you hop in. If there are already three in the back, no matter, there’s room for one more. If there are two in the front, again, no problem: a third person can fit in – roughly positioned astraddle the gear stick (US English: stick shift).
Leaving Bamenda to make the journey to the small town of Belo, I felt a certain smugness at having bagged the front seat of the taxi. A medium-sized (US English: very small) 1980s Toyota Corolla with a broken windscreen it might have been, but at least I had my own seat.
Cars depart the town’s ‘motor park’ (a muddy square with much transport activity) only when fully occupied. However, I’d rather failed to appreciate what this would mean, having made a naïve presumption that longer-distance transport might be a little more comfortable than the round-town variety.
Time passed as I chatted outside with the driver, an agreeable chap despite his keen support of Manchester United Football Club. One, two, three got in the back. The drizzle turned to downpour, so I climbed into my big comfy seat and prepared for the attractive scenery I’d been told the journey would bring.
But it wasn’t yet time to leave. A young woman with (school age) child rocked up and squeezed into the back. The old lady holding a large plastic box of starchy-looking substance grumbled loudly in Pigeon English as she folded an arm somewhere. I began to feel rather guilty about my luxury tourist’s seat.
At least I did – until the appearance of a petit Cameroonian woman in a rather nice gold dress. Bugger. I knew six weren’t going to fit in the back, so I moved up, resigned to an hour in the gear stick position. But some chap directed that I should get out – Mama (as older Cameroonian woman are respectfully called) was to sit there. I made sure I shared a good section of my seat. Rather a squash.
By this point, there was no sign of my Manchester United supporting pal. A new driver instead took position and started the engine. A big, thick-set man, he filled out the remaining third of the front seats with ease. Until he got out. And another man got in. But rather than being yet another new cabbie, this man’s unfortunate destiny was to occupy the seat roughly underneath the driver, astraddle both the gear stick and Mama’s left leg.
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