Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hey They're Gonna Sit By You! Another One Rides The Bus

We are still in the process of figuring out the best ways to navigate this city of 3 million. You would think that the internet would be able to guide you to a comprehensive list of the servees and bus routes, but there's is absolutely no hard guide on bus routes, numbers, etc. So, we have learned the old fashioned ways of asking the locals and trying things out to see if it works.

The best, most expensive (sometimes highly educational) and easiest form of transportation are the taxis. There are two types of taxis you can catch. The silver taxis are swanky and expensive. They have clean and polished interiors and computer screen in the seats for you to pick music. I avoid them because I dislike paying double what I could pay in your average taxi. Your average yellow taxi is reasonably priced (about $3 for the half hour drive from school to our house) and is much easier to catch since they're more common than their silver cousins. As a woman, I ride in the back and have to stick a kid in the front if there's not enough room. I might come off as flirtatious if I were to sit in the front. Culturally, most of the men enjoy interacting with kids and often try to engage them in conversation. Much less frequently will they talk to me beyond getting directions. For my husband, taxi rides can be a good language lesson since many drivers want to know about the foreigner and want to share about their city and culture. I've heard that some male language students will flag down a taxi and ask them to drive them somewhere with the sole aim of practicing their Arabic. Taxi drivers may refuse to take you once you stop them for a ride for a number of reasons:
1. They don't think there will be anyone needing a taxi when they drop you off.
2. It's to a busy part of the city and they don't want to waste time in traffic.

There are a couple of different types of buses that travel around the city. There are large buses with A/C that leave from a couple of central bus stations. The fares are cheap, 50 cents one way. We've only traveled via the large buses once because sometimes it's the same price as a taxi when you're a family of four. My favorite method of transport when there are only one or two of us traveling is the minibus. The minibuses are 40 cents and travel quickly through a set route. There is a minibus service that takes me close to the kids' school and to the west side of town where I can go to the mall or Starbucks. The bonuses for me on the minibuses are the fact that the driver won't take me to the wrong place if I don't speak clearly in Arabic. Also, the men on the bus have to move out of the single seats if a lady needs a seat. Quick, reliable and respectful make it a winner for me.

The third method of transport is something called a servees. This is something that makes A LOT of sense in a hilly city where most people walk. At the bottom of each hill, on a specific street, sits a line of white taxis. These taxis wait until all four seats are filled and then they head up the hill to a specific drop off point. Our home is midway up the servees route, so this is the way that Jason and I come home from school every day as we would hate to have to walk uphill coming and going. The fare is 40 cents per person on the servees.

Even with all these forms of transportation, we're still doing a lot more walking here than we did in the States. You may wonder why we aren't considering buying a car.
1. Unless you have a residency visa you're not allowed to own a car
2. Even with the residency visa, it's costly to buy a car, even if it's used
If you're in a minor fender bender (an extremely common occurrence here) you and the other driver have to determine who's at fault and drive together to the mechanic. If a cop becomes involved, the cop will hold trial on the side of the road and determine who will have to pay a fine AND pay for repairs.
All of that sounds like a colossal hassle on top of everything else we're doing.

J and I were talking today and recognized that we'll have reverse culture shock when it comes to transportation when we get home. We'll wonder why everything is so far away from each other and why we can't flag a taxi down on the main street.

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