Honiara, a city of about 50, 000 people, probably has as many taxis as Adelaide (1.1 million), if not more. Every third car is a taxi, it seems. I’ve never had to wait longer than a few minutes for one, but what is really strange is that even after two years of catching taxis almost daily, I still run into drivers I’ve never seen before, and there are only a few I’ve gotten to know really well.
It doesn’t take much to become a taxi driver; there’s no licensing system as far as I can gather, and while there are formal companies, there are plenty of guys out there who just get hold of an old Corolla, buy a taxi sign, and away they go. I’ve even seen them with ‘TAXI’ written on the door in texta. They tootle around the main roads at about twenty-five kilometers an hour, constantly on the verge of running out of fuel, and in the process, earn an excellent living by local standards. I guess that’s why there’s so many of them.
Another thing you really seem to need as a taxi driver here is a basic gasp of English so you can make conversation with the white man, who is probably going to be your best customer. And I’m guessing that many of them learned from an ENGLISH PHRASE BOOK, probably from the 1970s, that featured KEY PHRASES FOR CONVERSING WITH THE EUROPEAN (we’re included in that category, by the way).
And the first phrase in the book must have been “The Sun is Very Hot.”
Seriously, I’ve had taxi drivers open a conversation with me using that phrase, actually that exact wording of the phrase, at least two hundred times in the past two years. Note that they do not say “sun hem hot tumas”, the equivalent pidgin, or even, “sun hot today”, which would be the RAMSI pidgin. The phrase is delivered in perfect English every time. Even drivers who appear to have no other English whatsoever know this phrase.
I suppose it is a bit like English-speaking tourists opening up with “excusez-moi, pour aller à la gare, s’il vous plaît?” and then not being able to understand the answer when it comes back in French. Except that of course, the drivers actually live here…
Anyway, here’s to the Honiara taxi driver, who has gotten me to school and back every afternoon, to the Lime Lounge, the Yacht Club, the King Sol, Ivor’s House and Home Again, steadily and very cheaply, for the last two years. Here’s to snapping off the inside door handles so the passengers can’t run off without paying. Here’s to Christmas tree air fresheners that are years out of date and cannot possibly compete with your BO and halitosis. And here’s to the sun; yes indeed, it is very hot.