Thing #15

Public transportation.

One thing that is pretty amazing about Botswana is the system of combis (small busses/big vans), taxis and busses that can “easily” get you anywhere you need to go. There are no schedules posted, if they are posted they aren’t quite accurate, but somehow the system just works.

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(A combi running a local Kanye route, this one doesn’t leave the village)

Combis are used for routes within villages, in between nearby villages, and for further routes that are not expected to be very popular/crowded. Combis within a village cost 3.50P ($0.35) and will cost more if leaving the village. Some taxis run on set routes, within a village, and take up to four passengers. They stop along the way to pick up and drop off customers. Taxis running on set routes cost 4P ($0.40) per passenger. If you want a private taxi or if you want to go a different route, it will cost between 20P-40P (more in the city and more to go to the airport). Busses are used for everything else and are priced based on the destination.  A bus from Kanye to Gaborone costs us 21P, for example.

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(Some combis are painted pretty colors or have saying printed on them).

Botswana does not have new buses. I am not quite sure where the buses come from, in fact. As far as I can tell we receive retired buses from various Asian countries. Buses that were glamorous in their hay day but have since been determined not suited to serve other counties are exported to Botswana. Our bsses have (old, plastic) chandeliers, (broken) ashtrays, and (torn) fancy curtains. They are totally old clunkers, but they are kind of charming.  More popular routes have better buses and some routes even have double-decker buses- fancy!

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The thing about the system is that it works. Though I have been on buses that have broken down and I have waited hours and hours for a bus, normally they come regularly and arrive at their destinations as “planned”. Like other things in Botswana, there is beauty in the way things happen in these mysterious ways.

An example of how the buses work: one time a volunteer from a nearby village wanted to send me something. She put it in a box with my name on it and sent it in a bus that was headed to my village. She texted me the name of the driver and what time to expect the bus. It worked! The bus delivered the package.

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(Jon and I on a leisurely ride to Moshana recently.  Sometimes the combis are not crowded!)

When buses break down and you find yourself stuck far from home with the sun about to set with no other buses in sight, there is an amazing form or relief. Hitchhiking. As PCVs we aren’t allowed to travel from village to village after dark and we aren’t allowed to hitchhike unless there is a sense of danger and/or no other options. I have been in a situation requiring a hitch once or twice and it is pretty amazing here. It is safe, reliable, and organized. People in cars act as taxis along set routes. They will pick you up and charge you the same route as a bus would charge, should there be a bus. Once, in an extreme emergency, no other way around it, stuck on the side of the road with a broken down bus with the sun setting, I got a ride from a wonderful woman driving a truck. She took as many of us as she could (9 adults, 2 babies, and tons of groceries) in the back of her truck and didn’t charge any of us. It is just the way. Even when the system seems disorganized, or nonexistent, it works. Just like that.

And that is something that I love about Botswana.

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(An example of how buses and combis line up and drive incredibly close together.  The drivers are all total pros!)

When buses are too broken down to even try to run routes here, they become children’s playgrounds.  More about innovation in Botswana in a later post.

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