An ode to the bajaj
Part bicycle, part car, part art-project, the vehicles are often decorated with bright paintings of Barack Obama, Jesus, and Che Guevera. Good company. The best have also been outfitted with sound systems, churning out cheesy R&B mixes and pounding rap songs, an inspiring soundtrack for my commute to work.
Three passengers fit comfortably in the back seat. Seven are less comfortable – three in the back, three sitting on their laps, and one up front with the driver.
Every morning, a series of negotiations with the drivers that pick up passengers two blocks away from my apartment. “How much to Kinondoni?…near the hospital?” An exorbitant mzungu price is quoted and outrage is feigned. I pretend to walk away until the driver yells at me to return.
Most of the drivers are adept at negotiating the worst of Dar’s rush hour traffic. When the parade of cars heading down Old Bagamoyo Road comes to a standstill, they jump the curb and barrel down the sidewalk, playing a game of chicken with angry pedestrians who jump aside at the very last minute. If there is no sidewalk, the drivers slip across the line separating the right side of the road from the wrong side, swerving from left to right to avoid the oncoming traffic. An hour long commute is compressed into ten minutes.
Frequent words of warning from those who grew up with a view of the streets from the back of a bajaj: never get in with a young driver, choose the older drivers instead, they usually have a wife and children and more to live for.
After more close calls than I can count, finally last Wednesday I looked up to the words CITY BUS and felt the crunch of metal. And walked away from a head on collision with a dalla dalla.
And now, new words inserted into my morning routine: pole pole (slowly slowy).