I should be getting ready to teach right now. I should be starting lunch preparation, thinking about the nap I want to take and finishing any lesson planning I need to do.
Instead, I’m sitting here writing a much overdue blog post because now I have the time.
Every Friday I make a 2-hour trek across the island, packed in a 15-passenger van called a “taxi bus” that holds anywhere from 20-29 passengers depending on the driver’s mood. I squeeze and squish myself between sweaty armpits and unyielding metal sides, to bump up and down over roads in desperate need of repair on shocks that scream in protest. I arrive, usually a little shaky, my legs are cramped, and my back a mess of knots. It takes the five-minute walk to class to work out the kinks of the voyage.
I teach an hour and half Level One class then I wait on the side of the road for 15 minutes to an hour for a return taxi bus. And I repeat the whole nasty business of travel to get back home.
But today is different. There are no taxi buses. In fact, there are no taxis at all! This may not seem like a big deal to most of you. Some of you may never have had the occasion to take a taxi. Maybe you only take one when you can’t find a DD. Or that one time in New York when you splurged to get to the theater on time.
But I take a taxi every day. Every. Day. And so do a lot of islanders. Old Peugeot hatchbacks with door handles that have fallen off and windows that no longer roll up make their way from one village to the next carting their four passengers (plus children and sometimes animals). Many, many island men make their living as taxi drivers. While more and more men are buying motorcycles to get around, still a large majority of the population cannot afford personal transportation. So they walk or take a taxi.
However, as of yesterday, taxi drivers are on strike. Taxi buses that travel long distances and the cars that just go between close villages, no one is working. Rumors are flying. I’ve heard so many reasons as to why I have no idea where the actual truth lies. It seems clear though, that the drivers are striking because they are angry about insurance. The most likely rumor I’ve heard is that the government-required insurance is not paying out when there is an accident (an unfortunately frequent occurrence). I do not know what the drivers are demanding exactly…new insurance? Not being required to carry insurance? Ensuring they get paid? But according to a taxi driver friend I ran into yesterday, the government isn’t budging.
Unlike the strikes most Western countries are used to, where the strikers strike until their demands are met or a compromise is reached, strikes seem to be more ceremonial here. They have a schedule and an end date. Most strikes last just one day. It came as a surprise yesterday when I learned that the taxi strike would continue to today and possibly tomorrow and maybe even beyond that…
So for now I’m just hanging out.