Bush taxis in Antigua

Surreal Caribbean overlook

Willoughby Bay, Antigua

It will be two months on the 20th since I came to Antigua. I live in Sea View Farm “Village”, almost at the center of the island, so, far from all of its famous 366(?) beaches. My workplace is in St. John’s, the capital, two minutes walk from the tourist boats docking area and I can see the boats parked at the dock through my office window. In fact, I can catch sight of the behemoths as my bus rounds a bend down the gentle hills heading in to the city. But why do people who shop at supermarkets, consume packaged foods and drive SUVs like to call their town “village” or “parish”. It sounds quaintly British, Hardyish. It definitely should not have to do with people living away from the city—the only city on the island—and having their own septic tank waste disposal system. Because believe me, there is nothing village like about Sea View Farm; at least not apparently. I could swear I was living in any small town in any industrialized western country. One might see more people out and about on foot in the US than here. Cars, most of them big size sedans zoom by winging the few pedestrians walking along the shoulders on the narrow, curving streets.  People do sit on their porches in my neighborhood but that is only because it seems to be somewhat of a prime retirement real estate.

Looking out away from the English Harbor from Shirely Heights

Shirley Heights, Antigua

There are a few but important idiosyncratic differences though from the Western model development of the arriviste countries, one of which is the “Bush Taxi”, the topic of this post. I got to know them and used them regularly when I was in Uganda/Africa, but in a country in North America where upscale regattas take place these minivan taxis plying countryside routes seem anomalous. Of course, they are not entirely like the African model either. The taxis are clean and the system is orderly in its kind of way: They do not board more than the number of seats in them! They have set routes same as in the African counterpart, though they do go on short detours looking for or dropping off passengers during non rush hours, which the African bush taxis didn’t do. Passengers need not stand at the marked bus stops but can flag them down along the route just like a “special hire” taxi. The flaggers do not run to board the vehicle, as they would do say, in India, but amble their way to it as there is a little more supply than demand. In a nice twist, may be left over from British colonial days of showing proper courtesy, a passenger getting on says, “Good morning”, “Good afternoon”, etc to those already on board. (My mind draws an odd parallel between young men with Bob Marley/Rasta dreadlocks following such old world institutionalized customs and teenagers who go for Goth lifestyle/makeup eating wholesome foods like apples. I mean, aren’t you supposed to be rejecting all the age old “wisdoms” of previous generations anyway?) When the passengers want to get off, they bark out “bus stop”. I can never tell if it is meant to be “bus, stop” or “bus-stop”. And “overdue”—pronounced “overdo”—is used to indicate not just temporal belatedness but spatial misses as well, as when the bus stops past a passenger’s intended/shouted out bus-stop. And from the bus depot it works the usual African way: There are no fixed departure times. One gets on and waits for the taxi to fill up. The women tend to be overweight and big, their hips, stuffed in tight clothing, spilling over into adjacent seats. I do not know how the svelte, tall school girls, attractive in their uniforms, get that huge Of course, every passenger brings aboard a couple of plastic bags volume of groceries. The passengers are not sweaty or have BO as you would expect them to in tropical countries, although my landlady looks down on those having to use the public transport because of “all those people, smelling”…

Some of the drivers tend to chat with the passengers. There is one who is a regular on the morning No.12 route who never tires of discussing politics. He is very articulate and injects humor into whatever he says. Once when he was taking several successive governments down for not keeping their promise to deliver water to his area, he joked: “That is why they called this country Antigua, Anti-agua, get it?” May be this is a tired old one for the islanders, but I had to laugh.

Further descriptions on the country in my next post…

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~ by Whydah on April 12, 2010.

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