Moto (Sunday, 2012 May 13)

May 14, 2012

Haven’t been writing much lately. Mostly due to being busy and frustrated, but also due to realizing that mine is (as Pat Murphy wrote in About Fairies) "one of those extremely tedious personal blogs that I am amazed that anyone writes and even more amazed that anyone reads". I’ve got some ideas on stuff I’d like to write in the near future, but right now the priorities have been: grading papers (two classes left), filling out report cards (three classes), then I’ll have to do those "livrets scolaire" (all seven classes) and in the meantime I’m trying to tutor Josiane and Romeo in math (and maybe English later). So when I’m not working I’m just trying to stay sane, relatively well-fed and comfortable.

Here is a thing I have wanted to write about for a while: the six stages of a moto ride.

The moto (as previously discussed) is one of the major means of getting around town here. The Organization can kick you to the curb if they catch you on a moto without a helmet, and with good reason — I just saw a moto take a spill a couple days ago in Bafoussam. Bruises and scrapes mostly, but you don’t want to be the exception.

I’m one of the stodgy volunteers who insists on carrying my helmet if I’m gonna take a moto — that I don’t want to lose my life over something stupid like that in Cameroon. But most Volunteers give up on the helmet, French casque, pretty early on in their service, following the habits of their Cameroonian neighbors.

Riding a moto (Anglophone: "bike") is one of the more enjoyable parts of being here. I’d like to tell you a little bit about how it basically unfolds.

  • Stage one: Isolation.

Before you can get on a moto, you need to find a moto. Motos are not shy about trying to get your attention if you don’t need them — hissing and making kissing noises are the dominant ways of trying to get someone’s attention here, although you may also hear them calling "Oh, le blanc!" or other friendly greetings. Choose your favorite. Some motos won’t even be interested in going to where you’re going. Sometimes there won’t even be motos. But don’t be ashamed to ask random people who are seated on motos if they’re interested in going; no one is "off-duty" if the price is right.

  • Stage two: Bargaining.

This is when you get to choose your price. Bamiléké bargaining traditions probably deserve a post all by themselves, but choose wisely, because like in every other interaction you have, you are representing not just yourself or even America, but all of Western civilization.

  • Stage three: Acceptance.

When the moto driver, commonly called motoboy or benskineur (I don’t know what the hell that means), accepts the price and destination, you get aboard. This may involve juggling your possessions, tying them to the moto, or having the motoboy hold your things between his thighs. Climb up, always on the left side, because the exhaust pipe on the right can get hot, and once you’re all set up, call out "Allons-y" (let’s go), "OK", or "On part" (one leaves).

  • Stage four: Travel.

This is the best part, as you shoot along down the road, or weave and mosey along a dirt path as fast as you can manage. The wind is in your hair and the hills undulate in the background and the sky is so, so blue.

  • Stage five: Fear.

You may have a moment where you think, "I wonder if this is going to be the moto ride that kills me."

  • Stage six: Arrival.

When you find yourself at your destination, you can dismount and pay the guy. Gather all your possessions and go. You may have a moment of disappointment that it’s all over, but you can always take another moto again alter.

I don’t know if Timothy loves moto rides too, but he’s already talking about getting a moto when he gets back home. He’s been looking up brands and already proposed that instead of buying a pretty-good moto in the States, he might be better off buying five or six crappy Chinese motos here. I think he likes the Nanfang, but I personally think he should get a Wonda.

I’d like to stress that these stages of a moto ride aren’t the same for everyone, and some empirical research suggests that motos don’t actually exist. Still, I hope this model will help you as you make your way through the process.

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