The flashy bus to town
Despite the dearth of paved roads and traffic lights, Hargeisa does actually manage to have a city transport system (whether this is organised by the minimalist government or private entrepreneurs, I have no idea, but it’s there).
There are several buses that run through town and, as the city is quite spread out, I need to make frequent use of them whenever I go down town. Of course, there aren’t really any formalised bus stops, or any ticket booths, or any bus numbers (or at least, any numbering system that makes sense) – let’s not get carried away here.
Basically the way it works is that you just know (well, at least the locals just know – hopefully someone tells you) which routes the buses ply and, as you see one go past, you wave it down. If it has seats left, it will stop, and you take a seat.
At some arbitrary point during the ride, the “ticket agent” (that term is somewhat glorified, really it’s just a youngish guy who hangs off the doorway) will snap his fingers, indicating to the passengers that he wishes to collect their fares. Starting from the back of the bus, the passengers then gather their bus fares (1,500 shillings or $0.30) together, accumulating the notes in an ever-thickening pile as it moves toward the front of the bus, before passing it to the money collector who stands there and flips through the notes to count them (all the while casually half-hanging out the door of the moving bus).
If you want to get off the bus, you just yell out to the driver to stop, and this can be at any point along the route (even if someone else just got off the bus 100 metres beforehand). The whole thing ends up being a bit like musical chairs, because in addition to the seats down either side of the aisle, there are also fold-down seats in the aisle. Once the regular seats have filled up, people start putting down the seats down the middle, thereby blocking the aisle and the exit route of the passengers behind them. So, if someone in the back decides to get off the bus, everyone in the aisle seats has to get up and shift around to let them past.
It’s all quite an adventure. And if the set up wasn’t comic enough as it is, on top of it all, the buses are often decorated in an ostentatious fashion – think plastic chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, tassels galore, superfluous curtains, excessive trims on the rear-view mirrors, and painted wind shields.