Ethiopia – Weyala from Denmark in Addis Ababa – Danish Taxi conductor

14 mins read

By Teis Feldborg Gregersen Like most days in Addis Ababa, the hot weather and the scorching sun take their turns – first the sun and then the heat. Pedestrians are on the rush trying to catch a taxi to get shelter and get away from the sun and travel to their respective destinations. In Addis Ababa, you are sure to experience a fast-moving minibus taxi and their fast-talking weyalas. The experience can be jarring at first and it is common to hear many residents complain about some weyala’s pushy behavior, foul language, and keeping change back from them. In the capital city, apart from other modes of transportation, there two types of taxi systems, the minibuses and small automobiles. The minibuses accommodate 12 passengers and the automobiles accommodate 4. The maximum number of people they can transport is regulated by law. The profession of a weyala is to serve as an assistant of some sort to the minibus driver by calling out taxi stops at times out of the window as the car moves, to get more commuters and collecting the taxi fare from passengers. Nevertheless, their role goes further into giving a helping hand to passengers in loading their stuff in the taxi, fight with other weyalas to win over passengers and help the driver direct through traffic, all at the same time. Ranging in age from young preteens to the middle-aged, weyalas (who are mostly men) arguably play an intricate role in the transportation system of the city. Then again ferenji weyala is not an everyday sight in Addis Ababa, but that was exactly what people traveling with the shared taxis between Wello Sefer and Kera were witnessing last Friday. For nine hours in a row I was working as the conductor of one of the taxis and I experienced how difficult the job that a lot of people do everyday is. Upon arriving here in Ethiopia about two months ago and for the first time seeing the conductors on duty, I was certain that if I was born and raised here, I would have been working as a taxi conductor every single day of my life. I quickly found out that the salaries of the taxi conductors are very low, but I still felt joy every time I imagined myself as an Ethiopian taxi conductor, hanging out of the window shouting the destination of the taxi. Finally, after a long time of thinking, I made the decision; I wanted to work as a conductor for one day, but I knew that I would need some help to make my dream come true. So I went to a nearby taxi station early in the morning accompanied by my host brother, who was willing to help me get the job as well as telling me the exact details about the job, as we expected the taxi drivers to have very limited English vocabulary. The first taxi driver we talked to did not want me and the great smile on his face spoke its own clear language; he thought that I was a little crazy. But we did not give up after that, and we were a lot luckier talking to the next taxi driver we found, his name was Dereje. He sounded very interested as my host brother presented the idea to him, but since he had a taxi full of people, we jumped in to discuss the details about the rest of the day upon arriving at Kera. I felt like we drove around the streets for an hour before arriving, and I kept my focus on the road as it might be my workplace for the rest of the day. It was probably the easiest place to work as a conductor; the taxi did not have to turn a single time, and there were only two different prices depending on the distance. I felt the burden lightening a bit and the day seemed a lot easier to overcome as it was so easy to be familiar with the road, but the job was not mine yet and I knew that. We arrived at Kera and all the passengers left the taxi except for my host brother, the taxi conductor, the taxi driver and me. This was a very important moment, but I just had to sit and wait as the taxi driver and my host brother discussed the details. Finally, after a little negotiation, I got hired, but I really needed some practice opening and closing the door as well as holding and giving back the money. It was for sure harder than I first expected it to be and I dropped several coins on the ground as I tried to close the door while holding the money in my hand. I did not really feel ready, but five minutes later, I was walking around the street shouting “Wello Sefer, Wello Sefer!” The first few trips back and forth between Wello Sefer and Kera were a very strange experience. People were laughing every time they saw me stepping out of the taxi with my left hand full of notes and coins while shouting the destination, but at the same time they were all very friendly and I got to answer the question “why are you doing this?” an uncountable amount of times during the day. I had some serious trouble holding on to all the coins but the passengers helped me by picking them up and when I looked very confused after receiving their money, they also told me exactly how much money they needed back. Dereje, the taxi driver, told me that everyone appreciated my job and I really felt that, people left the taxi saying ‘thank you’ or ‘have a nice day’. My motivation was sky-high and I could feel that I was getting better at controlling the money after just a couple of trips. The taxi driver was actually very good at speaking English, and it made me feel a lot more comfortable to be able to speak with him both during the trips and the breaks. And there were really a lot of breaks; every single time we arrived at the taxi station, we had to wait in line for the other taxis to go before we could start. I felt like we were having more breaks than actual driving, but other taxi drivers, conductors and people on the streets kept me busy talking throughout the breaks, as everyone wanted to say hello and get to know just a little about the ferenji taxi conductor, and once more, the friendliness of the Ethiopian people surprised me. We continued the exact same way for the first five trips and I felt more and more familiar with the job.. Then, instead of stopping at the taxi station, Dereje chose to skip the line and keep on driving for our sixth trip. I was very confused since there was nobody in the taxi, but quickly he explained to me that I was supposed to shout our destination out of the window and pick up passengers on the way. I was shocked; on our previous trips I did not have time to shout out the window as I was very busy collecting the money, and instead Dereje just kept an extra eye open for people on the streets, but this time I had to shout as well as collect the money. It was the worst trip during the day, lots of people got into the taxi, but I completely forgot where they went on and just hoped that the amount of money they paid would help me understand for how long they would be in the taxi. We arrived at our destination but I was sure that I did not receive money from all the passengers yet, but I had no idea who did not pay, so I was just hoping that everyone would pay while leaving the taxi. Luckily they did, and I was happy to find out that we would just stick to waiting in line for the rest of the day instead of picking up all the passengers on the way. Lunchtime came closer as we drove around the streets, I was incredibly hungry and my arms were tired after opening and closing the door. Luckily the lunch break was a very long one; we went for a burger and a cup of coffee and I felt my energy returning. The last trip before the break had been great, I finished collecting the money and I had time to talk a lot to the other passengers as well as look for new ones out of the window. I felt like I was getting really good at the job, and Dereje told me that I could work as his conductor any day I wanted, I just needed to tell him the day before. I did not really want to be his conductor again since I just wanted to experience it for one day, but I was really happy that he appreciated my job and we had some long conversations about some of the great experiences I have had here in Ethiopia. The break was over and it was time to get back to the job. The afternoon was busier than the morning but the experience from earlier made it a little easier to handle everyone’s money. My arms were really getting more and more tired and the steps in and out of the taxi made its impact on the feeling in my legs as well, but there were still many trips to go. The time flew and soon the sun started to sink and we went out for the last trip of the day. My arms were about to fall off and I really needed to relax for the rest of the day, it had been one of my most exciting days in Addis Ababa as I managed to make my dream come true. Dereje was the perfect taxi driver for me and we had lots of fun during the day, but now it was time to go home and rest. I left the taxi with a big smile on my face and I promised Dereje to call him if I ever needed his help; my day as a taxi conductor was a success; I was happy that my dream finally came true; but I was also surprised about how much effort it required to be a conductor for an entire day. Ed’s Note: The writer is on an internship at The Reporter.

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