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Published:September 24th, 2006 04:30 EST
Is It the Bus or the Taxi?

Is It the Bus or the Taxi?

By Robert Draper III

Well, I chose the bus because it was, and still is, filled with greater eventful incidents. You choose your ride, but either way it's going to be a bumpy ride accompanied by near missed accidents, congested traffic, road-raged drivers, and street hustlers. If you think that is all you have to deal with, then think again, because most likely you will be traveling the third world streets that are adorned with pot holes and road side construction while sitting comfortably in a dilapidated bus or taxi that has a floor covered with old qat leaves. One of my most eventful trips occurred on Baghdad Street.

Baghdad Street is a small strip of inner city cement paved road that connects Baghdad Street travelers to the nearby Sana'a Trading Center. Not to mention a sports a gym, karate dojo, two barber shops, and a plethora of restaurants. On many occasion, I stood in front of those restaurants with my hand reached out, signaling for the Highal destined bus to pull over and pick me up.

A few busses filled with passengers usually drive past before I can get the driver of a 1/2 filled bus to notice me. When he does, I am on my way destined to Highel Avenue that stretches from the end of Baghdad to Sana'a Main Post Office. While searching for a seat that is not to close to the women, and not to crowded, the bus takes off. You are lucky if the bus doesn't take off with one of your feet hanging outside in the wind. Like always, expect your bus driver to chew a large wad of qat so he can get thoroughly high (intoxicated) while he drives you, your spouse, and children safely to your destinations.

Yes! There is nothing like reliable Yemeni transportation. If you are blessed to start your travels off at the beginning of Baghdad Street, you will see the above mentioned places, and eventually you will come across the notorious Baghdad gangster, who stands on the side of Baghdad Street waving a stick in the air for the passing busses to pull over and pay their street tax. Yes, as expected, Yemen has its gangsters, and the Baghdad Gangster is notorious for his street tax. On two occasions, I was privileged to be riding on a bus that had a bus driver who refused to submit to the demands of extortion from the Baghdad Street Gangster. As expected, the bus driver gave his speech comprising of harem this, and harem that. Basically, he was saying the extortion being perpetrated against him and the stopping of his bus to implement criminal activity was not permissible according to Islam, but did the gangster care? No. He didn't. On both occasions, the bus driver lost out in conveying his morally correct message, and he also lost all of his passengers. Yep. That's right. I had to step out of the vehicle with all of the other men, women, and children because our bus driver was not one to be intimidated. But, that was my past experiences because on that day, my bus driver was quite cooperative with his extorter.

One may ask did the gangster have a threatening presence for my bus driver and the majority of bus drivers to be cooperative in the extortion of their money. Was he packing a gun? The answer to both of those questions is no. Apparently, on Baghdad Street it is an understood realization that certain entities exist, and that their mere presence, and most likely the tribe they represent is enough to be feared. If one was to compare this Yemeni gangster to any other Yemeni, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. The Baghdad Gangster sports a simple ezar, old sandals, and the traditional Yemeni jambia. Every time when I see him, he simply stands on the side of the street, and he waves his stick for the busses to pull over. The more compliant bus drivers gently hand him 20 Yemeni Rails, and they are on their way. Many days before, I noticed him, and my friend Sam pointed him out to me. Sam said, "I bet he earns at least 4,000 to 5,000 YR per day." I was a little hesitant to agree with him because I took a more modest assumption and speculated that the man probably earned about 3000 YR per day. Either way, the Baghdad Gangster was a paid man, and he even had a crew of men who dealt with the street tax on his behalf when he wasn't present, or when he was dealing with another bus driver at the scene. I must admit, it was a thrill to see the man in action.

In America, we see gangsters glorified in the entertainment industry, and to see it in action in a Muslim country, even if it was at a minor level, was fascinating. Don't get me wrong. I don't think crime is good, but as an American, the way of the underground has always sparked some interest in me. If you are blessed to have a bus driver that is cooperative, unlike I had on two occasions, you will be provided with a comfortable ride comprised of numerous stops. But don't expect to feel all that safe.

Who would expect the transportation authorized by the country of Yemen to permit the side door to always stay open? Ever since I road on the busses, I have dreaded sitting next to the open door for fear that I may fall out. Praises due to God that has never happened, but on those sharp turns, I am forced by the necessity of safety to firmly grasp the bar handles affixed to the seats in front of me. On one of these stops, our anxious bus driver was in such a hurry to drop his passengers off, and continue to his next stop that he failed to check if one of the lady passengers was completely out of the bus. The bus was in motion attempting to enter into a vacant space between two cars while the lady had one foot on the bus floor, and the other on the street. He dragged her for about 5 feet, while numerous people attempted to inform him of the incident, but he was too intoxicated to hear them. Eventually, he did stop after hearing the woman's body slam against a nearby parked car. By now, you may be wondering, are the taxis any safer.

Yes, on occasion, I have chosen a taxi for my means of transportation. As expected, the tax is much faster, but it does cost more money. The key to getting a good deal and not being swindled out of a lot of money is to bargain with the taxi driver before you enter into the taxi. Since most taxis in Yemen don't have meters, you or the taxi driver will decide on the price, and if you are new to Yemen they will try to pull a fast one on you. If you are expecting to travel about 10 miles or so, you will probably have to pay 250 to 300 YR. But a trip to the American Embassy from Diary Street will run you about 500 to 600 YR.

Oh, yeah! Don't expect the average taxi driver to be any different than the bus drivers. On many occasions, I have been in a taxi where the driver ran multiple red lights, and the police were standing on the corner or sitting in their police car chewing qat and smoking. This behavior is normal. There is a good side to having an intoxicated taxi driver. He usually charges you a substantially reduced amount of money for the destination you are trying to reach, and of course he does this because he is too intoxicated to know better. But as expected, you don't always want an intoxicated person driving you around town, so if you desire a more professional driver they are available, and usually at a reduced price. I must say that I prefer the professional uniformed Yemeni taxi driver over the qat chewing one. The car is cleaner, air conditioned, and it is equipped with a meter. These taxis are adorned with advertisements, and they are usually found in the wealthy area of town. There is nothing like the Americanized professional way of doing business. You can't beat that. Praises due to God!

One may assume that with all of the eventful happenings of bus and taxi travel in Yemen, it would be near to impossible to reach one's destination. But, sure enough, I have reached my destination on many occasions and you will too. If eventful bus travel in Yemen is not your forte, then you can always take the taxi, but don't expect much difference in traffic.

Current Location: Yemen
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