This is a quote from "Hillel the Elder" from the first century. (I thought I was so original!)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Lusaka Combies or Local Buses

These are Combies.  Most of them are blue and easy to spot.  Sometimes they are referred to as "transport" for transportation or just the "bus".

I believe the the word "combie" comes from an English term used for small buses that were produced by the Comber Car Company and the term became common like the term "kleenex".

In Zambia they are everywhere and very essential for a population where only the upper fifteen percent have private automobiles.

The combie drivers and business is regulated but at first glance you would think they are immune from any rules of the road.  Zambian drivers on the whole are pretty good drivers, but the combie drivers are of a different class.  They go where they want and ofter drive along side a road if there is a little room to move ahead.  They also move over into the oncoming lane to move forward.

Since such maneuvering keeps the population moving, no one seems to complain.  I have often heard the drivers are drinking or drunk but I really have had no personal experience about this.

Actually, I haven't had any bad experience with a combie on the road but I am amazed that they drive anywhere they want with impunity.

The most fascinating character for me is the "conductor" or driver's sidekick.  Here you see him leaning out the side window.  That is his normal seat.  He is looking for new fares.  Often the combie will not move until the bus is full.

Full means really FULL.  The front seat next to the driver can have two passengers and then there are four rows with four adults, plus the conductor and perhaps some babies on laps.  That is over twenty for a maximum but more commonly they fill up at sixteen paying passengers.

The Sisters and Elders ride in them and have plenty of stories about people and prices.  Most get out if the price is raised for a white person and usually have a certain drivers they prefer.

Of course there are large inter-city buses but I have seen combies a hundred kilometers from Lusaka on isolated dirt roads where people patiently wait for them for hours.  Below is one of the long haul buses having snack items offered to them for the drive.

Often the conductor is sitting on the window sill to scout for potential passengers.  The competition for passengers is fierce and often the conductors are across the street or meeting people walking towards them and escorting them away from other combies and towards their combie.

I enjoy hearing their calls to passengers and arguing with other conductors about who gets the passenger.

Ever vigilant for customers, the conductor sets the price and beats on the top of the van for the driver to stop.

Most drivers name their combie.  Most names have some sort of positive saying or biblical phrase.

The milk cartons these two fellow have are really what the local beer is sold in.  This explains why in all the street debris there is not much glass.  Drinks are not sold in glass commonly so paper and plastic constitutes most of the debris.

I would get claustrophobia sitting in the last row, and believe me it only takes one person with strong BO to put me out in the fresh air again.

Here is a conductor counting the money.  There are 2 kwacha notes that circulate in the villages over and over and some are so dirty it is difficult to make out the denomination. 

This combie is full plus lots of fruit and bananas spilling out the back.
Sometimes if you are carrying too much they will place your load on the top.

This is it, no large city buses on regular bus routes, but these combies do tend to travel the same routes over and over.  However, you are at the whim of the driver and his friends or relatives and other passengers or how low his gas tank is, or whether he will go directly to your destination.