I get around on foot a lot here. There is really no reason not to, this place isn’t especially huge. And the portion of it that I deal with, the hospital compound, the university up the road, is all reachable by foot. Sometimes the trail is obscured by lakes of water pooled at the foot of every incline and in the muddied crevices left by overzealous four wheeling Toyotas hurrying through this crisis despite the crisis’s plodding pace.

My feet work well despite the heat and rain.   But public transportation is still necessary. And while South Africa had its network of minivans scurrying the tar and dirt roads like scavenging ants, Liberia has taxis and motorcycles.

The motorcycles are all driven by solemn faced young men and were apparently an exchange for arms during the disarming and reintegration of combatants. Now they use them to pick up passengers and ferry them about or to ride quickly, recklessly, and raucously through winding dirt paths and racing any other traffic on the road.

PC isn’t allowed to ride them but that doesn’t stop their drivers from urging us to jump on or keep me from eyeing them as I walk by the Ganta taxi area in Gbarnga where they congregate and wait for passengers. Often they have stickers on them – for a while every one I saw sported an American flag. Today’s theme seemed to be religion, “god makes a way where there is no way” or “in Jesus’ name”. And of course there is the safety gear. That ranges from nothing at all – no helmet and flip flops or white jelly shoes just inches above the ground as they fly by. Others have helmets that dangle wildly from the front bars. And then there are the helmets. Sometimes they look like bicycle helmets and other times like it was snatched from a much younger/smaller or older/bigger brother. Ill fitting but perched atop shiny heads at jaunty angles or held in place with taught buckles.

But the taxis are the best.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of cars so dilapidated. I can’t speak for Monrovia because we barely saw anything while we were there but just 80 or so miles east and the cars look like a mongrel litter of battered and malnourished puppies. Windows are broken, mirrors missing, seatbelts unheard of. The other day our taxi turned into the “gas station” (a spot on the road where men sell petrol in clear glass two gallon mayonnaise jars) and funneled it somewhere directly into the engine and never touched what I usually take for granted as the gas tank.

But the real genius of the taxis is the number of people it holds. I assumed three in the back and one in the front would count as full enough to leave, and depending on where it is going it will suffice. But much as in South Africa, full is relative to the desire of the driver. The other day we had four adults and two children in the back seat of a tiny car and two women in the front. Even that doesn’t really constitute full as one of the other volunteers commented that she’s seen three passengers up front – one was sitting with the driver, and apparently it isn’t unusual to ride on the roof. I saw that for the first time while visiting one of the clinics. I was amazed to see a man riding so nonchalantly there- but all the more so because the taxi was hauling it as fast as you can go across pitted and pocked dirt roads.

Of course today our trip into town involved none of these. The hospital has a bus that makes a few scheduled trips into town and everyone…and I do mean everyone…tries to squeeze into it. Today that meant at least five people in seats designed for four and multiple people squeezed up front at the door. But free is free so people endure.

The way home was a mode of transportation that isn’t uncommon to PCVs from what I can tell. NGO vehicles. The truth is that I see more of those and UN vehicles than anything else. As a result, if people recognize you it is possible to get a ride like that. Today Fancy saw one of the hospital’s trucks heading out of town so we ran toward it, greeted appropriately and enjoyed a quiet and unclaustraphobic ride home.

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