My neighbour happens to be one of my colleagues, so everyday I get a drive back home after work. Only that time, he had to jet off earlier from work and I had to stay for a meeting (overtime already!). I did not tell my auntie (who tends to be over protective) that day was officially Independence Day – or at least a small step towards it!
On the way out, I called my cousin for some tips on “how to get a taxi” – because I live a distance away from Moroni and this is a whole strategy to get a cab (a “distance away” is about 20 minutes by car , and this is 20 minutes because your journey is made up of inverted humps and bumps….). As I have now learnt, the taxi system for the commuter is entirely based on profitability. Getting to the city centre Moroni is dead easy, but getting to the village I live in is a struggle with the elements….. and good fortune has to be your friend that day. Going back home is like Mission Impossible X.
So here I am chatting away to my cousin on the best plan of attack ….And I can hear my auntie already jumping around, worrying and agitating her car keys…. Have to almost tell her off and say I’ll try first before admitting defeat! Because I don’t know the names of all the spotlights or areas of Moroni, she has to explain the directions in details…. So she tells me to go to “Goubadjou”, by the Friday Mosque…..only she forgot to mention that what she was referring to was the most recently built Friday Mosque. And then to confuse me further, she adds that it is nearby “the roundabout “…and both mosques do have a roundabout nearby them.
For me, the Friday Mosque is the one you see everywhere on postcards and websites about Comoros… So all confident, I hail a taxi to go to that side of the town. Must say I am proud of myself: first time I take a taxi on my own. This feeling did not last very long…
The only problem is that, given what I explained above, I ask him to drop me at the wrong place. Only I did not know, so I start walking down the pavement and I see the street by the mosque with dozens of taxi lining up and driving down the road. Imagine Oxford street being packed of taxis instead of red buses… and for every taxi I stop, I get either a big head shake or a drive away. Thirty minutes later, under the sun which is at its highest by now, very self-conscious, I am still here.
I call my cousin, explain that despite all my efforts and courage, none of the taxi wants to take me. And whilst I say this, I fix the road full of hundreds of taxis in line one behind another with reproaching eyes…. I tell her I am by the tagged shipwreck (this ship has been marred for years after the owner died. It’s been beautifully tagged, and now kids use it as a playground, and I have been told that lovers do go there too…pictures to come very soon once I get my camera back!) ….and then she’s like:
“noooooo ….you have to go the other way round, by the other roundabout and then turn left!”
After all, I am a newcomer so I stop debating and I follow her directions. Luckily, I bumped on a colleague who offers to drive me back after the prayer (we are Friday….), but, very determined, I tell him that I don’t want to disturb him and will go to Goubadjou (something I will never do ever again!). Just to make sure I am going the right way, I ask him and he confirms.
So undeterred, I make my way there….and see this new mosque unveiling after passing the roundabout. And I am doing a big internal aaaaaaaaah! Only I couldn’t see it before because it is slightly elevated…. However, by now, it’s the end of the Friday prayer….and the roads are filling in with hundreds and hundreds of men coming out of the mosque, creating chaos and traffic jam! So I cover my head with my veil (just in case, someone happens to know me….) and rapidly walk up the street …. And indeed, I am in taxi heaven. They are all there! Seems to be like the terminus and “beginnus”of taxi commuters….
So I start asking…. And I FAIL MISERABLY! By then, I have been in the streets, battling the pavement for about 2 hours, hungry and sweaty! My auntie calls me with a “That is it. I’ll come and pick you up” that will not suffer any contradiction. Although I feel like I’ve only lost a battle, but not the war…..
That day I’ve learnt a few life lessons:
1/ I have to pass my driving license ASAP. At the time of writing, I’ve already done a few lessons. And communication with the driving instructor is comical…. This needs another story in itself!
2/Since then I learnt that taking a cab on a Friday before 4pm from Goubadjou to go to my village is like “counting the chicken …….” (dixit Dr Reed). All the taxi drivers going that way are of course back in their local mosque and do not come back in town till early evening.
3/ Usually, taxi drivers from your local community know you so they will stop by you before you ask. I‘ve seen this happening when I am with my cousin (still not ready to repeat the experience on my own).