Saturday, June 30, 2007

Transportation a problem? Or not!

Kinshasa has a very unique transportation system. There are some city buses and they are getting more all the time but they are few and far between. There are many buses on the side of the roads that are broken down and it seems very difficult to keep them running in a place where they must maneuver in heavy traffic and the roads are so potholed that the buses breakdown often. We don't know what the price is to ride these buses but people fight to get on them. When the city bus stops, people run to the door and start shoving and elbowing each other trying to get on'. They stack them in as tight as possible and then they don't stop any more until they let someone off. When you see these buses on the road they are usually so full that another body could not be fit anywhere on them. It looks like a mass of humanity. We have not got a good picture of the stuffed bus yet as we don't want to be rude and take a picture that might offend someone. Most people choose to ride commvies. Commvies are a unique form of transportation that at first look like total chaos but actually is a well oiled machine that services a large population and makes it possible for people to move around the city. Keep in mind that there are 9 million people in this city and although the traffic is always very congested most people do not own cars and depend on the commvies for transportation. Commvies are large vans, mini vans, old VW vans, station wagons or just old cars. The drivers of these vehicles may own the van but most rent the van for a set amount of money per day and then hope they make more money than they spend so they have an income. Gas is $8 per gallon so profit margin can't be very good. They also have a partner that rides the van with them and collects the money from the riders. The regular seats in the van are removed and the van is rigged with 5 rows of seats, actually benches that hold 5 people per seat. It is not uncommon to see many more people loaded into these vans as they open up the back doors and set people on both sides of the back bench or set them with their legs hanging out under the back hatch door as they sit on the floor of the van. Unusually they leave the side sliding door open and two or three people stand in that doorway and hang on half in and half out of the van. We have also seen two or three riders standing on the back bumper which is just rim and holding on to the lip at the roof. How they manage to stay on is unknown to us as they are swerving in and out of traffic, hitting these huge potholes and bouncing along the road. The most precarious rider is the one who hangs on to the roof rim on the back and balances on the Ball hitch on the back of the van. When you drive behind such a van you are fearful he will fall off and you will run over him before you can stop. We try to stay out of the right lane as this is the lane most of these commvies drive in so they can stop and pick up passengers whenever they are hailed from the side of the road. Most commvies are very beat up missing lights and sometimes doors. Several times we have been driving along and the van in front of us looses their sliding door. The passengers just jump off and pick up the door and hold it in place as the van gets back in motion. When the commvies break down or stop passengers will get out and push the vehicle along until it starts up again. They don't want to lose their ride they have already paid for. We wondered how the drivers know when to stop and pick someone up. Usually there are many people on the side of the road waiting for transport and they seem to be waving at the commvies. We finally realized that they are waving in a certain way. They may wave their hand up and down or sideways. They may wave with three fingers or four. They may extend their thumb or just put their thumb up or down. Each gesture means a different destination. Sometimes the driver may even wave out the window to show where he is going. Most cars have drivers on the left side of the car but it is not unusual to see someone driving from the right side of the car. During commute time in the morning and evening competition for transport is high and people run, shove and push trying to get on one of these vans. You can imagine how hard it is if you live on the outside of town and want transport and a van pulls up that is full and you desperately want to get home so you just shove your way in. When they stop sometimes many people have to climb out to allow the person getting off to get out of the van. All this is happening as the driver maneuvers around many, many cars and other transports and the money changer is trying to keep track of who is getting on and making change for these passengers. It looks like total confusion but the system works and millions of people are transported daily around the city. It is interesting to see how many people can get in to one of these vans. I wonder if they know they might be making the world record for van stuffing. We have counted 27 people in one VW bus. That is our record. You may have an appointment with someone but often they are late because they couldn't get transport or many times families have to choose who will go to church on Sunday as they cannot afford transport for everyone to go. The cost for riding the commie runs about $.40 and this is out of the range of many people. Another form of transport is hitching a ride on a truck. We assume that when a truck is going somewhere for a price they will give people a ride. We have seen huge trucks stuffed full of people; men, women and children. Sometimes the truck will be loaded with big bundles of kasava leaves or other goods and the people will just sit on top of the pile. The pile may be tipped precariously but the people just hang on and hope for the best. Last night we were going out to the airport to pick up our new mission president and his wife and we drove behind a pickup truck that had so many men in it we couldn't count them all. I counted 17 but was unable to see those in the front. They were straddling the tailgate and everyone was hanging on to someone. We got laughing at them and gave them a thumbs up and they laughed and to ask why we only had four people in our truck, couldn't we give someone a ride. We have decided that the transportation in Kinshasa is an amazing system. This system moves millions of people every day and without the system the city could not function. An example of creative necessity. I want to ride on a commvie but Farrell says mission rules prohibit my riding mass transit. Oh Well. Where we saw chaos we know see ingenuity. Where we saw lack of order we now see creativity in the making.


Tandy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tandy said...


What a remarkable experience! I heard about your blog last month but didn't get the link. I was thinking about you tonight and tried Google. It worked! I'm looking forward to following your updates during your mission.

I have great admiration and respect for the both of you, I always have. I know the Lord will bless you in your endeavors!

Love, Tandy

Rose said...

Dear Barlow's,
While reading your updates, I commented to Chris that your experience with trash, police, traffic, transportation, security walls, etc. reminded me of the Philippines to a T! He said it sounded just like places in Mexico where he served. Too bad you can't send a few of the aromas of a large 3rd world city over the internet for all to enjoy! It all sounds like my mission surroundings and takes me back to many wonderful memories. May the Lord bless you in your many adventures in the DRC.