Time for a little insight into the wonderful world of travel in Togo. When needing to get from point A to point B you’ve pretty much got 2 options. Either a motorcycle(moto), or a bush taxi. Usually motos are used when traveling short distances within a city, or if you have to go to a smaller village out in the bush (where many volunteers are posted) because the roads are too bad for a car to be able to drive down. Bush taxis are used for more long distance trips on the better roads in country. I use the term ‘better roads’ very loosely because in most cases it in no way implies that they would be considered even passible by most standards. I’ll get into more detail about the quality of said roads a little bit later.
For now we’ll start with the moto situation. The fact that we are even able to ride motorcycles in country is actually a huge luxury by Peace Corps standards, and makes travel significantly easier and less expensive. PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) in most countries are not allowed to ride motos due to safety concerns, but due to the face that a fair amount of the posts for PCVs here in Togo are inaccessible be car, we have been granted special permission to use motos. Don’t worry mom, they give us big, brand new, shiny, white, top of the line helmets to wear to make sure we’re safe.
There are a few other regulations we have to adhere to in addition to wearing our helmets: We’re not allowed to drive the moto, only ride on it as a passenger, no riding motos on the main national road, and we’re only allowed to ride one person per moto. Yes, I know. I realize that that might seem like a strange rule to have, that they would need to specify that you are only allowed to have one passenger per moto. I thought the same thing when I first heard the rule, I didn’t even know it was possible to fit more than two people on a motorcycle. Which brings me back to my earlier point: Theres always room for one more. The necessity for this rule becomes quite apparent after spending only a short time observing traffic here in Togo. Not only will moto drivers take on a second passenger, but they’ll squeeze on a third, fourth, and even fifth person. Yes, thats a total of six individuals on one motorcycle. ‘What the fuck’ is right. I admit, the later few usually include at least one or two children or infants, but still, thats absolutely ridiculous. In case you were wondering, no, these are not some sort of extra large motorcycles, there are no sidecars, and yes, they only have two wheels. Pretty much your standard simple motorcycle.
I’m sure right now most of you are going through the logistics of how the hell you could possibly fit 6 people on a single motorcycle without enlisting the help of the Ringling Brothers. Well then, let me enlighten you. The actual bikes are built to comfortably fit the driver and one passenger behind him, each on nice cushiony seats. Although there is a small rack roughly 8-12 inches, attached to the back, designed to be able to strap small things to to transport them, which, depending how bumpy the road is, wouldn’t be unreasonable to fit another person on. After that, things start to get a little cozy. Scoot the driver forward so he’s straddling the gas tank like he’s holding on for an 8 second ride, push the guy on the back all the way to the tail end of that little metal rack, and you can squeeze a adolescent kid somewhere in between. If you weren’t close with the other people on the moto before you got on, I would imagine it wouldn’t take a very long trip down a typically bumpy Togolese road to quickly get acquainted. Strap an infant to the back of the woman sitting on the rack, and pop a toddler on the gas tank hanging onto the center of the handlebars for dear life and voila! You’ve got an environmentally friendly Togolese carpool. Who needs a 5 seater sedan anyway? The best part of it all is that when you see it driving down the road towards you the first thing you see is the little kid in the front holding onto the handlebars so it looks like this 4 year old kid is the one driving the moto. I’ll try to get a picture and post it on facebook or on the blog page if I can figure out how to do that, so you can see it.
If packing that many people onto the back of a moto isn’t a problem, you can bet that using one to transport all other sorts of cargo wouldn’t be far out of the question. This next example kind of ties into the last post about the bull in the back of the hatchback, as it occurred just about an hour and a half after that incident and just happens to involve that very same bull. I was at the middle school next to my counterpart’s house playing around with a football with a bunch of little kids in my village. I find that bringing an odd shaped ball thats used to play a sport they’ve never even heard of helps me to avoid getting completely humiliated by 6 year old kids who would absolutely school me if I attempted to play them at their own sport, soccer. Any previous attempts at doing so have usually resulted in my stumbling around and tripping over my own feet as these little kids ran circles around me and dribbled the ball right through my legs. Although they seemed to enjoy it throughly, it wasn’t quit the most rewarding thing for me.
Anyway, back to the story. So as we’re playing around in front of the school, we’re forced to halt play and step aside to let a moto drive past. I nod hello to the driver who smiles appreciatively for us moving out of his way, and just as I turn to look at the kids and resume play I’m forced to do a double take at the back of the moto. It was almost like some sort of strange creepy deja-vu as I turned back around and saw those same eyes staring at me again. The eyes of the giant bull that I’d looked into just an hour ago in the back of the frankenstein hatchback staring at me now from the back of this moto.
Come on, thats just ridiculous. I know I said that they’d put pretty much anything onto the back of the moto, but no, the guy didn’t have the whole bull tied to the back of his moto. Lets be realistic here. And yes, you should feel quite stupid if thats what you were just thinking. No, it was just the head. Freshly parted from the rest of its giant body. Although not far from it. As I’m standing there once again jaw dropped, a little bit shocked and kind of grossed out at the fact you could still see a fair amount of blood and other entrails still hanging out of its neck, I’m snapped back into it by the sound of the horns of another two motos following closely behind, warning me of their presence. Yup, you guessed it, each carrying a half of the freshly slaughtered and gutted bull strapped right to the back of those little metal racks. Now it was quite a sight to see the giant bull head, horns jutting out to the sides like some sort of reverse oversized hood ornament meant for an eighteen wheeler, but the sheer size of the, I don’t even know what to call it at that point, slabs of beef? on the backs of the other motos really took it to another level. I mean, each piece had to have weighed more than the driver sitting in front of it. Hoofs tied together sticking straight up, just strapped right to the back of the little motorcycle. I was obviously a little stupefied by the sight of this little, shall we call it ‘last ceremonial running of the bull’ (I do kind of apologize to any Peta sympathizers who are reading this specific entry. I can guarantee you it lived a nice long free range, grass fed life though, right before it’s first class luxury ride to the slaughterhouse. They don’t really believe in any sort of fences or enclosures for animals here). So after the motos had passed and I took a few seconds to digest what I had just seen, I turned to the group of kids with a look as if to say “Did you just see that shit?!”. They were all just standing there laughing at my reaction to what was clearly a quite normal and common occurrence for them. Hitting each other on the arm and pointing at me laughing as they mimicked my look of shock and confusion to each other.
Livestock seems to be a fairly common thing to transport on the back of motos here. Yesterday I saw a guy with 5 goats and 2 chickens strapped to the back of his moto. I’ll let your mind run wild with picturing the logistics of that one. These ones were still live though and for all of you vegans and animal rights activists I’m sure they were just being taken to the vet or to some nice new accommodations to live out the rest of their lives peacefully and happily.
Another crazy thing you see here involving motos, that still doesn’t fail to shock me every time I see it is when you see women carrying things on their heads while riding on the back of a moto. Its impressive enough that these women are able to carry and balance these huge objects(buckets of water, stacks of boxes, or big bowls of something or other), on their heads while walking, but then they’ll just hop onto the back of a moto, one hand reaching up to keep balance and the other sometimes (yes, only sometimes) holding onto the seat beneath them to keep themselves on the moto. I have trouble staying on the back of the thing using both hands to hold on and carrying nothing, while the moto bounces up and down as the driver attempts to swerve his way through the pothole ridden streets, these women do it like its nothing. After all though, I guess it is. For them it’s just another normal part of daily activity.
It’s very easy to judge the way things are done here upon first seeing them. Quite often the first thought that comes to mind is ‘Thats strange, they’re doing that wrong’. Weather it be carrying a bucket of water on your head, putting 6 people on the back of a moto, cutting a piece of wood with the saw ‘backwards’ or putting the shower drain at the highest point in the entire shower floor(Ok, that last one is just plain wrong, theres no excuse for that). These things are only wrong in my eyes because its so different from the way I’m used to seeing it done. In reality, its just ‘different’. A different means of getting to a goal, brought on by a different set of circumstances and resources. And after you can get past that sometimes you might just realize that the ‘wrong way’ this other culture has devised to reaching that same goal is often a more resourceful and effective way than what you’ve always considered to be ‘normal’ and ‘right’(*Thanks Jane*). Except for the shower drain thing though, whoever made my shower just plain fucked that one up.
I think thats about all I’ve got in terms of motos. The transportation and bush taxi situation here in Togo is sure to be good for at least one more fairly entertaining post(at least I hope you’re entertained by them) but I’m heading to bed now so that’ll have to be saved for a Part III.
TO BE CONTINUED…