Benin Guide – Motorcycles and Bush Taxis
Benin, West Africa
The word zemidjan means get me there fast in Fon, the language. Zemidjans are motorcycle taxis. They are very fast, very convenient, very unreliable, and very dangerous. Peace Corps volunteers must wear a helmet when they ride zemidjans. It is the easiest, if not only way to get around in the country if you don’t have your own mode of transportation.
A zemidjan driver is a kekeno(kekeno means bike in Fon. no means person). Kekenos usually wear short sleeved button down shirts with a number on the back. In Cotonou, kekenos wear yellow shirts, in Porto Novo, red, in Grand Popo green, etc.
If you want to ride a zemidjan, look for a driver with no passenger on the back and yell kekeno! Or make a waving gesture at him (open and close your hand like you are waving bye-bye to a baby. This means “come here” in the Beninese cultures). Before you get on, you should agree upon a price. Ask around before hand to know what the price should be. As a yovo or foreigner, you will have to pay more than a Beninese. You also make more than them, so buck up and don’t be an asshole about it. In general, you should discuss the price with the kekeno, and not accept the first one. One of the fun things about riding a zemidjan is arguing for the price you want. Just don’t be a jerk!
Always get up on the left side of the motorcycle, as there is a hot exhaust pipe on the right side that will burn you. While on the bike, hold onto the bar at the back of the seat-not onto the driver! There should be a place for your feet, ask the driver for help if you can’t find it.
Some drivers are maniacs. If you are scared, close your eyes. Well, probably don’t do that or you?ll fall off. But you can tell him to slow down: doucement.
Mostly you will ride zemidjans within cities. Sometimes though in more rural areas a zemidjan will be used to travel longer distances, especially if you don’t want to wait for a bush taxi to fill up-which will take hours. In this case, it is important to glance over the bike and make sure it seems like it will run that far.
Bush taxis are usually used to go between cities. You may be able to negotiate the price, it is always good to at least ask before getting in. They may want to charge more if you have a lot of baggage.
There are two ways to get a bush taxi. In some towns there will be a gare (taxi station) that you need to go to. In others, you stand on the side of the road and try to flag down a passing car. Usually there are men there to help you. These men are paid by taxi drivers to find them passengers. It is not necessary to pay them.
Bush taxis are crammed full of people. Literally there will sometimes be a passenger sharing the driver’s seat with the chauffeur (driver). I’d recommend that you sit in the middle part of the back seat, since it is the safest. Sitting in the front is scary as hell, especially if you are on a goudron (highway). It’s asking for death. Although the seats by the door can be appealing (fresh air!) they too are scary. Sometimes the door pops open. Also if the car rolls over, you are a goner.