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Mutiny on a Brousse

August 17, 2013

For the most part taking taxi brousses, or glorified vans that transport people, chickens, goats, cats, rice, bananas, oranges, mattresses, furniture, and anything else you can either sit in a van or tie on top of one, aren’t that bad. There are exceptions to all things though. To start this story off, normal needs to be established. Thus far my experience with a normal brousse ride is “leaving” at a set time. Then you drive around town for about 2 hours picking up a variety of things and people, and then, if you’re lucky, after 2 hours you actually leave the place you are trying to leave. As you wind along your trip you stop to pee, grab bites to eat, load more people and things, and let people and things off. Sometimes the driver even stops for beer… The economics of brousses are interesting. You’d think that buying a seat would mean a seat but really it just means that you are contributing to the pool of money that the driver is trying to make as big as possible. In other words, drivers have every incentive to pack as many people and things into the brousse as physically possible to earn the most revenue per trip that they can. They stretch the laws of physics to the limit more often than not- a 3 person space normally holds 5, maybe more if you are in the front row and have people seated facing you. The worst brousse yet was packed well beyond capacity. It was so bad that even the Malagasy people were fuming at the driver- and they have evolved with the taxi brousse system to have an unprecedented high pain tolerance. I can only speak for the front row area, but by the time Michael and I decided that biking 60kms in the middle of the day would be more comfortable than continuing our ride in the brousse, we had 6 people squashed into the seated front row. Across from us sat another 5 people, knee to crotch, with 2 men crammed into the running boards by the sliding doors on each size. That’s 15 people in a space that US road laws limit to 3. Clowns could have learned their trade from this chauffer. I’m not certain if it was me egging people on, or if they would have done this themselves, but for the entire 20km we suffered on the brousse, packed like sardines, old women were cursing the driver, men were swearing and violently shaking their heads (the only thing that could move freely) and we were not the only passengers to jump ship early. I feel that this was a breaking point- mutiny on a brousse, with a driver who was overcharging the fare. And I felt good being in the middle of it, shouting out a hallelujah whenever someone would curse the driver for his ineptitude, or maybe animal cruelty rather. Laying hens for Tyson have more room than we did! It’s a silly memory to hold dear, but I felt in those crushed cramped quarters a sense of belonging and community, and I felt it in a way I had not yet in Madagascar. Sadly, we did not lead the exodus from the brousse that would have been a full on mutiny or stand-out (as opposed to a sit-in). But for a brief 20 km I belonged. And was pissed, and cursing, and close with my neighbors- closer than I ever thought I’d be. Mutiny on a Brousse For the most part taking taxi brousses, or glorified vans that transport people, chickens, goats, cats, rice, bananas, oranges, mattresses, furniture, and anything else you can either sit in a van or tie on top of one, aren’t that bad. There are exceptions to all things though. To start this story off, normal needs to be established. Thus far my experience with a normal brousse ride is “leaving” at a set time. Then you drive around town for about 2 hours picking up a variety of things and people, and then, if you’re lucky, after 2 hours you actually leave the place you are trying to leave. As you wind along your trip you stop to pee, grab bites to eat, load more people and things, and let people and things off. Sometimes the driver even stops for beer…

The economics of brousses are interesting. You’d think that buying a seat would mean a seat but really it just means that you are contributing to the pool of money that the driver is trying to make as big as possible. In other words, drivers have every incentive to pack as many people and things into the brousse as physically possible to earn the most revenue per trip that they can. They stretch the laws of physics to the limit more often than not- a 3 person space normally holds 5, maybe more if you are in the front row and have people seated facing you.

The worst brousse yet was packed well beyond capacity. It was so bad that even the Malagasy people were fuming at the driver- and they have evolved with the taxi brousse system to have an unprecedented high pain tolerance. I can only speak for the front row area, but by the time Michael and I decided that biking 60kms in the middle of the day would be more comfortable than continuing our ride in the brousse, we had 6 people squashed into the seated front row. Across from us sat another 5 people, knee to crotch, with 2 men crammed into the running boards by the sliding doors on each size. That’s 13 people in a space that US road laws limit to 3.

Clowns could have learned their trade from this chauffer. I’m not certain if it was me egging people on, or if they would have done this themselves, but for the entire 20km we suffered on the brousse, packed like sardines, old women were cursing the driver, men were swearing and violently shaking their heads (the only thing that could move freely) and we were not the only passengers to jump ship early. I feel that this was a breaking point- mutiny on a brousse, with a driver who was overcharging the fare. And I felt good being in the middle of it, shouting out a hallelujah whenever someone would curse the driver for his ineptitude, or maybe animal cruelty.

It’s a silly memory to hold dear, but I felt in those crushed, cramped quarters a sense of belonging and community in a way I had not yet in Madagascar. Sadly, we did not lead the exodus from the brousse that would have been a full on mutiny or stand-out (as opposed to a sit-in). But for a brief 20 km, I belonged. And was pissed, and cursing, and close with my neighbors- closer than I ever thought I’d be.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sue permalink
    August 17, 2013 21:18

    You have the best stories ever! Thanks for the updates!

    Like

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