Conversation in a taxi

Taxi drivers in Medellín are usually registered and their information included on a piece of yellow cardboard that hangs over the passenger seat so that anyone seated in the back can see it.

The information includes the driver’s blood type. This is very common here, motorcyclists have it stenciled on their helmets, soldiers beside their names on their uniforms and everybody has it registered on their ID cards.

I pay attention to this because I have a relatively uncommon one (B+) and it is slightly rarer here than in the UK. It is more common the further east you go.

So one day I had this little conversation with a taxi driver:

Me: You have an unusual blood group. It’s the same one as mine, so that’s how I know.

TD: Oh, yes?

Me: It’s more common abroad than here.

TD: Well, I am not from here.

Me: Oh, where are you from? [imagining North Africa or Eastern Europe]

TD: Venezuela.

He is one of an estimated 900,000 Venezuelans living in Colombia, part of the greatest wave of immigration in the country’s history. There are now municipalities on the Caribbean coast where there are more Venezuelans than Colombians.

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Conversation with a taxi driver

One day I was going to church in a taxi and I commented on the “ciclovía”, the lane of the main road that is closed to cars every Sunday so that people can run and cycle along it.

From that beginning we got on to talking about sports and which sports we liked doing and which sports we liked watching and then we got talking about swimming pools and whether they were clean.

And then, the taxi driver told me this story:

“A few years ago I worked in a finca (a house in the country) and when I got there the swimming pool was disgusting. I cleaned it [insert detailed description of the cleaning products and processes here]. And I got it lovely, with crystal clear water and people came from all around to swim in that pool. In the evenings, when there was no one there, my wife and my children swam in the pool.

One day, the owner of the house (the patrón!) came to me and said, “I’ve heard that your family are using my pool. I don’t want you to do that. It’s my pool.”

That night, I said to my wife, “Take the children and go to Medellín and find somewhere for us to live.”

So she went, and thank God, she found a flat right away. That was a Thursday and that weekend I left the coutry  house and came to Medellín and got a job driving a taxi almost immediately and I’ve been doing that ever since.

I worked hard on that pool and to tell me my familiy couldn’t use it, well, I couldn’t put up with that.”

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Back in Medellín

I got back to Medellín on Tuesday evening. Everything went like clockwork on the trip, if you don’t count my dad’s car getting a flat tyre on the way to the airport.

Yesterday evening I got a taxi to meet my flatmate as she finished work so we could go out for a belated birthday meal.

It was rush hour.

The driver was one of the very aggressive, lane-changing, foot-on-the brake jamming, horn-tooting breed.

I lived on my nerves the whole way. People stepped out in front of us. Motor-bikes wove in and out of the lanes of traffic. Buses pulled by, perilously close.

It’s amazing what five months in sedate wee Scotland can do to one’s perceptions.

“I get used to this, every time,” I had to remind myself, as I got out of the taxi, knees trembling.

I didn’t quite kiss the ground.

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Journey home

It’s getting harder and harder to get home any time after about 5pm.

Yesterday, the taxi driver asked me where I was going and reluctantly let me get in and only then realized that he had mixed my hill with another less congested one but by that time I was in the taxi and i wasn’t going anywhere.

“Look at that,” he grumbled, as we passed the gridlocked traffic on the way down the hill.

“How about you let me off at the filling station and you can keep going up rather than getting stuck coming down?” I (most magnanimously) offered. “I don’t live very far up the hill, it’s quite easy for me to walk.”

“OK, then,” he agreed.

But then I realized he was turning up my hill.

“So you are taking me home,” I said.

“Oh, the princess has to get home,” he said.

Tonight, the metro was closed when I go to my station, there were no taxis when I got off the metro (once it opened), the bus got stuck at the bottom of my hill because of an accident and when I got home, the power was out.

It’s December in Medellín.

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Taxi ride home

Yesterday, the traffic up the hill was so terrible that my taxi driver started taking selfies to pass the time.

Then he was driven to a massive rant by a traffic police waving cars through a green traffic light.

“If there is one thing that is – excuse my language – more like a puppet, it’s a traffic policeman waving traffic through a green traffic light. I mean, everybody in the world KNOWS that you can go through a green traffic light. If she was waving us through a red traffic light, that might be of some us, but through a green light…that’s no use at all.”

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Vivid expression

I was in a taxi and the driver was talking on this radio about this accident, which left one person dead and 5 injured.

The conversation went something like this:

Is it true about the accident on the Balsos?

Yes, there is a car overturned, literally, on its back with its feet in the air.

Like a cockroach?

Yes, like a cockroach. Completely on its back with its feet in the air, like a cockroach.

So it hasn’t been smashed, it’s been cockroached.

We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know about the casualties as they gleefully played with the image, and marvel instead at the vividness of the Spanish language.

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The last taxi driver story of the week, I promise

The taxi driver who took me from the airport to the transport terminal in Monteria on the way to the wedding, called me the following four things during our half hour trip:

Mi amor = my love

Mi reina = literally my queen but more like sweetheart

Jefa = boss

Patrona = also boss, but it always sounds a bit feudal to me.

It’s as if he couldn’t quite decide on the right tone to strike with me.

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Stream of consciousness

Another taxi driver made my evening today. He bought some chewing gum from a young woman who was carrying her sleeping toddler over her shoulder and that prompted him to say:

I really admire these women. See these women, making a living on the street, selling their chewing gum, not prostituting themselves. She doesn’t have to pay child care, she’s got her child there, where he grows up, he can help her sell. if it were marihuana that would be different. But chewing gum… Because it’s hard you know. I have a friend who sells minutes [for mobile phones] in the centre. And she’s not pretty. And men come up to her and say “How much do you make in an hour?” and she says “$15,000″ (=£4 approx.)” and he says, “Look, I’ll pay you that, and I’ll buy you a nice lunch and then we’ll go to a hotel, and I’ll give you $30,000,” and she’s good, she knows how to handle the situation, and she’s starving but she says, “No thank you, I bring my lunch box.” No, there are some women the street doesn’t devour, and that’s admirable.

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Another conversation with a taxi driver

TD: You’re foreign, aren’t you? North American?

Me: No, I’m Scottish.

TD: And how long have you been in Medellín?

Me: Almost 5 years.

TD: Husband?

Me: No.

TD: Well, I’ll tell you what the problem is.

It’s that us men just don’t want to commit.

We’re afraid, you see, there are so many women out there,

so many, that we are afraid of being unfaithful.

So my advice to you is to have affairs and not to fall in love.

Me: No, no. I’m waiting  a man who is prepared to commit

and if he doesn’t come along, I’ll stay single.

TD: Why?

Me: Because I want to please God.

TD: Well, that’s wonderful. What a sweet thing.

Well, I hope that man comes along for you.

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A compulsive need to commentate

I’ve noticed I have tendency to commentate my taxi journeys.

Very busy time of day, I say.

Or: This might take a while, as we crawl along.

Or: I think there must be an accident ahead because it’s not usually like this at this time.

[When we pass the accident] Ah, I was right.

Why the need to state the obvious?

I don’t think it has anything to do with what’s going on outside,

I just have a compulsive need to communicate.

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