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Traveling in Guinea at the end of the 20th Century

My Life in the Peace Corps Book cover

While serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa from 1998 to 2000, I had to take bush taxis or ride my bike to get where I wanted to go. The Peace Corps provided us with a bike and the knowledge to fix it. These mountain bikes were simple, strong, and essential for mental health. They let those of us, who were isolated, know we still had a way out, even if there was no motor transportation available. The bush taxis were a whole different story. Traveling in Guinea was not for the faint of heart.

What Is a Bush Taxi?

A bush taxi is the main form of transportation in Guinea. The most popular car is a converted Peugeot 505 with inside space for 10 to 12 people including the driver. These cars are secondhand, and many are held together with bubble gum and baling wire, sometimes literally. Goods and baggage are placed on top of the car.

How to Catch a Bush Taxi

Bush taxis in Banko were only available regularly on Saturday. You’d go to the market in the morning, by a seat or two if you wanted to sit in comfort, and wait until the car filled up. Most of the time, these cars would go to Dabola. Once the car had the required number of passengers/and/or the market was over, the taxi would leave.

Baggage and the Petite-La

The goods from the market and passenger baggage weren’t the only things that went on top of the car. The car’s apprentice and mechanic would also ride on top. Commonly referred to as “Petite-la,” meaning “small one, there,” the moniker has nothing to do with the man’s size. Rather, it has to do with his standing in the hierarchy in the bush taxi ownership.

Enjoying the Ride

The maintenance on these cars is questionable, and at the time, I was there, car accidents were a leading cause of death of young men in Guinea. Tires may be bald. Lights may or may not work. In one car, smoke came into the vehicle from the vents. The driver joked that at least we didn’t have malaria because the smoke kept the mosquitos away.

Questionable car maintenance accompanied by poor driving habits makes taking a bush taxi inherently dangerous. We had two volunteers die in an accident on the road. We knew the dangers, but it still hit us hard. I ended up with an injury that has affected me every year of my life since. The joke was “the driver passing a loaded truck on a blind curve while lighting a cigarette and changing the cassette” was only funny because it was true. Some of the drivers use energy drinks to drive long hauls and make more money.

Get the Book

As volunteers, we accepted these risks because we knew that we were providing needed services and education. Taking bush taxis gave us Guinean “street cred” and allowed us to understand what many Guineans had to face when they traveled.

 “My Life in the Peace Corps: Letters from Guinea, West Africa” will be released on Dec. 28, 2020 in eBook format on Amazon. I will try to publish the paperback on Amazon about that same time. If you want to get it quickly, watch my Facebook page for a link. If you want an autograph, you can pre-order the paperback on Penguinate.com. As soon as I get some copies, I will sign them and send them out. This process will take longer than ordering directly from Amazon because I cannot order them ahead of time.

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