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Kevin Dispatch

After All, Fare is Fair!

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Monica and I arrived in Bamako at 4 AM after spending fifteen hours on buses coming from Burkina Faso. Our first step was to find a taxi and go to the Mission Libanaise, the hotel where we were supposed to meet Abeja, Kavitha, and Jasmine. We were told that they had left the hotel the day before. It was not until the next morning that we were able to check e-mail and learn that Jasmine was staying just outside of Bamako at the Hotel Ryad. We waited for the others at the Hotel Ryad but they never came. We then took a cab into town to a dessert place called Le Relax. Upon arrival, a familiar hand reached out and opened the door to the taxi to let me out--the hand belonged to Kavitha. Abeja and Jasmine were with her. Bamako is a big city that's spread out, but by getting around in a taxi you can go just about anywhere and even meet the people you're looking for.

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The road to Mali
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Bargaining for taxis in Bamako can be quite an experience. We've been told, by both the owner as well as the manager of the Hotel Ryad, that a taxi in or out of town should cost absolutely no more than 1,500CFA which is less than three dollars. The distance is surprisingly long since you must cross the lengthy bridge spanning the Niger River as well as drive several miles to get to the hotel. But Mali is one of the 5 poorest countries and $3US does go a long way provided that you receive the normal rate for anyone living in Mali.

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No, we're not in Beverly Hills--we're in Mali
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Many of the taxis in Bamako are Peugeots, Renaults, or Mercedes. The Peugeots and Renaults are made in France and are all bright yellow. The bright color makes them easy to spot amidst the backdrop of muddy dirt roads and drab colors of many of the city's buildings. The Mercedes being used as taxis are rather old. You wouldn't know that they were fancy, expensive cars at one time without the Mercedes emblem to remind you. There are surprisingly many new Mercedes driving around such a poor city. We've often wondered how they remain in such good condition given the state of the roads and the dust and heat of Bamako.

However, we're never offered the usual rates for taxis at first. Drivers usually begin by offering to take us for 3,000CFA-4,000CFA, which more honest locals have told us is the price for les blancs ("white folks price"). That means we're offered the "white folks price" even though between the five of us, only Abeja would ever be considered "white" back home in the US. I suppose the color scale is just relative, and we nevertheless stand out as tourists and are assumed to have a fat purse between all five of us.

So how do we manage to survive without spending all of the Odyssey money on taxis alone? Well the team usually sends in "Kevin the Negotiator" to beat down the inflated price until it resembles the 1,500CFA that we're willing to pay. First I begin by saying, "Bonjour, ca va?" the expected greeting which shows just how polite the French language is even if the two parties are about to engage in verbal warfare.

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This ain't no Yellow Cab Company
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Then, without the use of a map, (maps are almost useless here because taxi drivers are neither used to reading them nor paying attention to street names) I briskly state our destination and describe in detail it's exact location and the usual route in getting there. I tell them "Ne me donnez pas le prix blanc!" (Don't give me the "white" price!) and proceed to tell them how every other taxi driver always offers us the same and that we always win because we know better than to accept it. That tactic may not convince the cab driver but it does make the other locals standing around laugh at our attempts.

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I bet HE never has to bargain for a taxi!
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The taxi drivers usually try to tell me the distance is too far for the price we're looking for or that they have to charge us more since we're 5 people. They say they're afraid that the police will stop them for having too many people in the vehicle and that they'll get fined heavily. I don't know if this is true but I do know that every other vehicle has double the occupancy anybody could reasonably consider to be safe, and that in bargaining, the fears of the taxi driver are easily quelled with the addition of another 500CFA anyway.

Sometimes the most stubborn drivers seemingly refuse us until the very end at which point we all (in coordinated agreement) begin to walk away from the cab to find another. BINGO! Inevitably the driver comes around and almost always tells us to come back and get in the cab. They never actually say that they accept our offer but all five of us immediately start asking "Pour 1,500CFA? 1,500CFA?" and thus we force the driver to say out loud in crystal clear French and in the presence of witnesses that he will in fact take us where we want to go for a reasonable Malian fare.

Kevin
 

Abeja - A World Class Lesson in Hospitality from the People of Mali
Kavitha - Someone to Watch over Us
Jasmine - Jasmine is Jammin' in Africa
Monica - A Letter Home One Year Later
Making A Difference - Who Wants to Clean Out the Sewers?

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