When I filled out my health history form, I knew that transport would be an agitating trigger as an autistic. Almost a year and a half after declaring this, I realize that I was right. Navigating the logistics of South African transport can be anxiety inducing, but there are methods for reducing the anxiety. By monitoring finances (so they cover the taxi fees), being prepared to move once you reach the destination, and being cognizant of sensory triggers, it is possible to have successes in taxi transport…meltdown free!
First the ability to move around South Africa via minibus is dependent on your ability to cover fees….which involves a whole other set of logistics. The taxi fee from site 1.0 to shopping town 1.0 was 21 rand exactly. My current taxi fees are 16 rand to Duke City (with the last 2 rand paid at a certain point), 14 rand to Scotland, and 8 rand to Schnitzeland. I try give exact change for local destination, as there is always a local passenger who will give a 100 or 200 rand bill which stresses the driver out. If I am desperate, I will ask them to break a 50 rand.
Now, PCSA’s bank of choice does not have a branch in the closest town (Schnitzeland…technically there is a perpetually broken ATM at one of the hardware stores) and at site 1.0 the closest ATM was at least an hour away. The way I manage this is that I pull out a couple hundred rand and purchase food as need at the local grocery store (at site 1.0 I did this at the tuck shops). While I am in town, I will treat myself to lunch just to break the cash for the ride home (Chicken Licken was my unfortunate choice at shopping town 1.0). Also if at all possible have extra cash on hand for public restrooms (Petrol station stops usually let you use the restroom for free but at many malls it is a 2 rand fee) and food stops for long distance trips. Finally, taxi associations raise prices with short notice quite frequently and it is best not to be caught off guard. Listen to your host family and friends in the community about potential changes. PCSA is great about sharing safe issues but host family 1.0 knew about the taxi strikes in Pretty City the hour it started.
Also along the lines of taxi strikes, there is a lot in South African transport that you cannot control. However if you are prepared to adapt to changes in the unpredictable schedule, the changes will not shake you up too much. Take my last trip to Msinga, after Cluster 1.0’s retreat the plan was to take a taxi to Durban and stay with my PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader the 3rd year who signed up to maintain SA 31’s sanity and does a beautiful job with it) in Durban and then go up North Coast and visit the Gogo at her site. The day before I was about to leave both Msinga and Durban had nasty taxi wars, and I had to change my route by going back to Shopping Town 1.0 and taking the Empangeni taxi. I got to the Gogo’s site right at dusk (and just in time for dinner), and minimized my anxiety levels. Also, long distance taxi’s leave when it gets full, or at minimum noon. So if you are trying to take a local taxi to Johannesburg in the winter and need to go to Pretoria for PC business, be prepared to transfer to the Gautrain and navigate Pretoria at night.
The other aspect of being prepared is being ready to move when the minibus arrives at the destination. I practice staying “please drop me off at…” in isiZulu before I get on the taxi. Crime is higher in the big cities especially in the taxi ranks, and right when a taxi enters city limits I zip my bags up, hide money, and make a plan. If I meeting another PCV, I message them to establish a location before I get on the taxi (since cell service can be spotty) and try to make contact before I disembark so my phone is not temping criminals. If I am alone, I try to coordinate a local taxi, place to stay overnight (and have the address handy for the taxi driver), or locate a safe place to make a call. When I went to Maritzburg for the database training, I did not know which one of the taxi ranks to disembark at but most passengers got off to the rank next to a petrol station. I walked into the petrol station, explained my situation and the attendants got out a phone book while pointing out the reliable private taxi company for Maritzburg. A taxi came 10 minutes after I called and for 50 rand they got me to the hotel safe.
I have not had the chance to travel internationally as a PCV, but from my exchange student days being organized before reaching a border crossing always pays off. I always have black pen (pens disappear at border crossings like leaves in the late fall and the South African government has a weird aversion to blue ink) and a potential address and contact information (hotel, friend, company etc.) ready, as long as you write something most border officials will accept the form. It should go without saying but always obtain the correct visa requirements before entering the country (All of South Africa’s neighbors have some form of Bureaucracy in their government but especially be mindful of Mozambique, it has the most requests for tourist visas and it MUST be obtained before you reach the border) and make sure you are able to renter South Africa (breaking the rule can throw you in perpetual gridlock with the South African government). On that note, before leaving the border crossing I stow away my passport and any tickets (if on an international bus…because my Botswana-mates do not let me forget the time I left the return tickets at the South Africa border and getting the replacements nearly caused me to miss the bus back to Bots) so they are not snatched. Losing a passport is a pain everywhere, but replacing a South African visa is extremely difficult.
Finally in terms of being the most comfortable as possible on taxis (and minimizing sensory overstimulation) takes a bit of trial and error to figure out what the triggers are. The main two are harassment and heat. If there are intoxicated men on the bus, I have to navigate unwanted attention. To keep a low profile, I choose to wear a knee length skirt (sometimes capri pants…depends how hot it is) and a modest top for the ride. Also I try to bring activities to keep me distracted like crossword puzzles or my Mp3 player, and most of the time people do not bother me for long when they see me occupied.
As for heat, I get carsick and more agitated when it is hot in the taxi. The first line of defense is ing the taxi during holidays, first and last weeked of the months when government gants are realeased.
Because this was Duke City’s taxi rank on Christmas Eve,
Introvert’s nightmare. Enough said.
Second is taking only what I need for long trips because more stuff adds to body heat (and taxis do not leave if they are full). If it is a taller taxi (I will explain taxi types another time) then there will be head space, but small minibuses are crammed. If I can, I try to get the front window seat on the right side, because I can control the window and there is a bit of leg space. However since the sun could be on my side of the bus, wear a hat, sunscreen, light and sunglasses to keep cool. If there are Cool Times (Popsicles in a plastic bubble availible in the local tax ranks) I buy one for 2-3 rand and place it at the back of my neck with wipes handy because sticky fingers can quickly exacerbate my agitation levels. Finally the last life hacks I have is staying as hydrated as possible (hard when the bathroom access is unpredictable), balancing salt and sugar intake, and having mint gum on hand (sold at all South African stores). It is a quick way to relieve car induced nausea and when swallowed serves as a laxative in a pinch (if that is TMI…well traveling in low resource areas is the epitome of TMI, you get used to it if you love this lifestyle).
This concludes the end of the Life Administration Series. Thanks for reading this experiment! I may elaborate on certain areas (like minibus types and layout…I ran out of time to elaborate) but if anyone wants more information, comment on the blog (I monitor all comments but see the emails, and if you indicate this is a private message I will delete the comment but email you personally.
All the best,
One last money side note for SA bound PCTs: As I have documented on here, I have had several unexpected stays in Pretoria for PC related issues which requires bus tickets and hostel stays. I try to budget 3000 Rand in the account at all times, in the event of an emergency/unexpected and only dip into those resources when the situation arises. Also, PC reimburses all expenses related to official business and since I am horrible at remembering numbers I write down taxi fees(and hostel bills if applicable) immediately after paying them in in writing and in draft e-mail on my phone (in case I lose the paper) so they are ready for the travel reimbursement forms.