Writing from Cape Town, South Africa
It’s Tuesday morning. We’re not supposed to take “unmarked” cabs—that is, the ones without names of trusted companies painted on their sides. I’m on Main Road, near UCT’s campus, and a driver catches my eye and waves me over. But he’s standing next to a white sedan, without any company name on it. It’s just a car. The ones that scam you and, you know, sometimes kidnap you. When I give the guy a polite wave and turn in the other direction to find a marked cab, he looks confused and flustered. I feel as confused by his confusion. Until I get to see the moment of realization: arm through the open passenger-side window, he reaches into his car and grabs something from the glove compartment. I look away for a second, then back, and surprise! He’s stuck a shiny yellow “taxi” decal on the top of his car. Now he’s a taxi.
It’s Saturday evening. The big annual Carnival parade is happening in town, about 20 minutes away. I meet three friends on Main Road and we hail a cab. (A marked one.) All three of my friends play women’s soccer for top American universities. They’re hard core, shin-guard-wearing, “don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-at-the-gym” varsity athletes. And then, of course, there’s “I-think-I-went-to-the-gym-once” me. But that doesn’t matter, right? We’re just taking a drive into town. Wrong. Three minutes in, our cab stalls out at a traffic light. Our driver panics. There’s a lot of shrugging and neck-turning going on. He looks to the backseat, his expression grave: “You need to push the car.” Ha! He keeps staring. Oh, okay. We all get out and push our driver down Main Road. Minibus drivers are hurtling past and shouting expletives (I think) out their windows. A guy in a red station wagon makes sure we know that we’d “better not pay that guy a cent!” As we push the car into a gas station, another taxi is there waiting. “I can accommodate you,” its driver says. But we’re far too invested to opt out now. When we finally get the cab moving, our driver won’t stop apologizing. It’s not professional, he says. He can’t believe we’d had to push the car. “No worries,” I assure him. “Three of us are varsity athletes.” He never asks which three.
That’s what it’s like a lot of the time here: makeshift, shaky, and endearing. The power goes out in a crowded bar and all you can do is laugh and wait. The Netflix home page keeps telling me that it “hasn’t come to this part of the world yet.” When the hot water doesn’t work in the shower, the landlord says, “Yep, this isn’t America.” Last night the internet wasn’t on. This morning, it was. I have no idea why. And I won’t ever know. But I’m learning.
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