I’m going to invent a new Swahili phrase: ‘fuula fuula’, meaning ‘we’re full’. I do this because the phrase does not seem to currently exist in Swahili. Or at least the ticket collectors of the matatus and dalla dallas (share taxis in Kenya and Tanzania) don’t seem to know it. Just when you think no-one else can squeeze in, another two people and a chicken get into the van, already at three times official capacity (not counting the chicken).
We’ve enjoyed using local transport in big cities like Nairobi and Dar, where driving and parking are literally a hit and miss affair, and also on island trips where we’ve grabbed our backpacks and travelled like we used to do in our pre-car days.
The ticket collectors of the share taxis hang onto the outside of the vans touting for business, yelling out destination names that blur into one long word to my ears. On the back windows are phrases such as ‘in God we trust’ (to get us to our destination in one piece?), or ‘Praise the Lord’ (that the driver didn’t crash into anything on the way here?).
In Zanzibar, $1.30 gets you from Stone Town to Matemwe beach, 50km away, in a pick up. It takes just over an hour. There are benches running along the two long sides. We think this is going to be quite a comfortable ride as there are only four of us in the vehicle. But this is Africa, and transport only leaves when it’s full. Just as the driver revs the engine to pull away from the taxi station, another six people jump in and we start huddling up. 15 minutes into the journey and we’re eight on each side, legs together, with knees touching the people on either side. I’m trying to remember some yoga techniques to help keep still in one position.
At various stops, yet more people pile in. They create spaces in between us by easing one cheek at a time onto the bench and doing a little side to side shuffle that squeezes everyone together a little more. When there really is no more space, people sit in the middle on the floor limiting our leg room in yet another direction.
I realise that being at the far end of the bench isn’t great. When the truck brakes I feel the full weight of eight other people pushing me against the back wall! Now I know why people leave it to the last minute to pile in.
Half way into the journey the thin man next to me gets off. I breathe out and relax into the space he has left behind, enjoying the smell of freshly roasted corn on the cob that is thrust in front of my face at the stop. The pleasure is short lived. My heart sinks when a rotund mama with her two year old son and a basket of groceries steps onto the truck and heads to the spot the man has just vacated. As she shuffles from side to side, I breathe in once more, grateful at least for the extra padding the next time the truck brakes sharply….