Everyone has a taxi rank. It is the place you go to get where you want to go.
My village is small enough that there isn’t much of a taxi rank, just an area where a bunch of cabs, or 4+1s, are parked, waiting to take passengers up the 3-kilometer dirt road to the main paved one. You can easily get a car at the main road. I often walk to the road, unless I am carry a big bag or can grab a lift from a private vehicle.
So, my main rank, the one I know the best, is Kentucky. It is in Maseru and it is where taxis drop me off when I get to town and where I go to find a taxi to my village, or the stop along the main road that leads to my village.
It is called Kentucky because there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken at one of the rank’s main entrances. The Basotho are ESTATIC about KFC. I am not kidding. It is their favorite food of all time. Many times, other passengers will have bags or boxes with the Cornel’s face that they are taking home. They even know how to make their own fried chicken, which they lovingly call, “KFC style.” I have never not seen a line at a KFC in Lesotho.
The rank is very large and always bustling. Travelers are weaving in between taxis and cars, knowing exactly where to step without looking so they don’t get hit. They are never really scared about this, even though a car may come within three inches of their child. Me, on the other hand, a car gets within a foot and I jump back and scream obscenities at the driver.
Taxis are tucked into pockets of the rank, grouped by geography. There are a few signs that give you some indication of where to go, but your best bet is just to ask someone if you do not know. Or, usually, a couple of conductors will ask you where you are going and show you where to find a taxi headed to that place.
Along the main road of the rank and the sides of these taxi pockets is hundreds of vendors. You can buy shoes, airtime, brooms, clothes, blankets, DVDs, jewelry, wash rags, toilet paper and sunglasses. You can also get fresh, or sorta fresh, fruits and vegetables, bread, various types of meat and flame-cooked corn. I haven’t been brave enough to try any of the food, other than some fruits and vegetables, but some day I am going to have a taxi rank meal. There are also several clothing shops, hardware stores and maChinas. MaChinas are shops that sell all of your daily needs – food, soap, candles, blankets, matches, brooms, dishes, ect – and are named so politically correct because they are typically owned by Chinese. If all those shopping options weren’t enough for you, there are people surrounding the partially full cars and selling snacks and other small items, just to make sure you don’t need that extra roll of toilet paper while you wait for your taxi to leave.
Hannah and I have a dream based on a PCV YouTube video we saw once: We want to go to a taxi rank, find a bunch of vendors near each other and say, “Yes, we will take all of this. I WANT ALL OF THIS STUFF.”
With so many people selling, buying, coming and going, the taxi rank is overwhelming. There are many smells and sounds. It is also one of those places the Peace Corps Safety and Security Director says to “be vigilant.” One PCV told me to just look really angry and people will leave you alone.
Everyone, mostly the bo-ntate, want to talk to the white girl in the rank. There are lots of white people in Lesotho, the taxi rank is not a place they go. “Hiiiiiiiiiii,” they say to me in a high-pitched voice because I guess that is what I sound like. “You go where?” Sometimes I smile and say my direction, but usually I am not up for chatting with random strangers and say, “Over there.”
It took me a long time to be comfortable in the rank. I didn’t know where to go and was sure that someone would rob me. Now, I just put on my iPhones and maneuver the streets and back alleys like a pro. I do get annoyed with all the greetings, strange smells and careless drivers, but being in the rank gives me this, “I am in Africa,” feeling. It’s unlike any other place and there is a great energy about it. To know my way around, makes me feel like I semi-understand this place and I feel less like a stranger. I love brining others, even PCVs who use other ranks, into mine and showing off how my shortcuts and ins and outs.
I am not a master at it, but I am not sure I every will be. Kind of like Lesotho. And, in that same way, I am now comfortable there and that is huge in itself.