First of all, before I get to the meat of this blog post, about that surprise I promised last time. Well, if you didn’t already see it on Facebook, I am coming back to the US next May for about 2.5 weeks. In fact I have already purchased tickets. I leave from Jo’burg on May 13th, get in May 14th to O’Hare airport. Then I leave again from O’Hare on the 31st, getting back to Botswana on June 2nd. My schedule (still somewhat tentative but mostly set) is: May 14-arrive in the afternoon, staying in IL with Aunt Rose and Uncle Tom from then until May 19th. May 19th leave for Grand Rapids and stay there till Thursday, May 23rd. Friday the 24th leave for Katie and Sean’s wedding. Sunday the 26th, head back to IL. Finally, I am staying in IL from then until departure. I am not making any dinner dates or such like that yet, but I will accept them when we get closer.
Now then, with that out of the way, onto today’s post. This one is meant to be more light-hearted. This is because I am working on two simultaneously and the next one which will come very soon is going to be full of rambling and introspection, so leading into that with this.
How to ride a combi. Now, riding in a combi has multiple facets. I will start with the biggest issue: selecting your seat. Here is a terrible artist’s (me) rendition of a combi. Seats are numbered for sake of ease. Note there is also a conductor on board, but he is not assigned a seat, in fact if there are enough passengers he actually stands/crouches over the person in seat 18.
See what I mean by bad art? That is just a rectangle for crying out loud, and a text box rectangle at that. But combis are just large vans so it isn’t too far off. Row 1 and behind are all the back seat. So let’s take this seat by seat.
1 and 2: if this is open take it. 1, 2 and the driver are the front seat. I don’t care if you have to drive through the window past an old woman, you do it. There is one minor exception to this. If you have a large bag with you that cannot fit in back, take seats 3-5. There is a small shelf area to put your bag, and you will be more comfortable there. As such, if 1 and 2 are taking 3-5 is prime real estate. Take that next. Preferably 5 over 3 or 4. Oh, and 1 is better than 2. Reason? Window control. You want it because even if it is 40 degrees people will still shut the windows. Keep that control in your hands.
At this point we have moved beyond the ideal positions. In fact I would even say beyond the good positions. For someone my height, if I get anywhere else I have no leg room. And in the very back row my head touches the ceiling if I don’t hunch over. The other day I was in the back row and was with some other PCVs (also in back). When I got out of the combi everyone heard my knees creak and groan when I got to stretch my legs. So if you end up in 6-16 here is the order you should take them. 8, 12, 16, 6, 9, 13, 7, 10, 11, 14 and finally 15. 8, 12 and 16 come first for once again, window control. Some combis have windows at 6, 9 and 13 as well, hence why they come next. Those three seats have a drawback though. They are the path out (folding seats) so you may have to move a lot if you are in 6 and getting out last. But, these are also the last seats to be filled usually. Which means that if you are in a full combi and in one of those seats, when someone leaves you suddenly have extra leg room. Not quite as valuable as a constant window but still nice. Those middle seats in the back just suck. Only take them if you have to. Finally we have the two question mark seats. Sometimes if the combi wants more money they will put people in those. I will say about half do and half don’t from my experience. Both suck, and are just extensions of the same problems in the back row. But 18 is the worst. Remember that thing about the conductor hovering over you. Awkward.
There is one final consideration for your positioning, when you are getting out. If you are dropping at a village along the way to the final destination of the combi, sit closer to the front and to the aisle. It makes for a quicker get away and less people have to move out of your way. On the other hand, avoid that area if you are at the end of the line (back row aisle is alright) because then YOU will have to get in and out and in and out and in and out whenever anyone wants to leave.
Now, general tips for riding a combi.
1. If you have a lot of luggage, load it on wherever you can before people get in. Especially if your stuff is heavy people won’t want to lift it and then you are guaranteed not to have it on your lap.
2. Have you money accessible. I do not mean in your pocket. Ever try reaching into a pocket with 4 people sitting in a seat area really designed for 2.5-3 people? Doesn’t work. Keep money for the combi in a front pouch of your pack (or purse for you females out there). This doesn’t mean have it there the whole time you are walking around. But move your fare to that spot right before or upon entering, aka before the combi is too crowded.
3. Repeat tip 2 for cell phones. Also hard to dig out of pockets.
4. Don’t close the window. Ever. Even in the mid of winter combi interiors get hot and sweaty really fast.
5. Have a book (or headphones). You need a distraction. But be warned even these aren’t fool proof. I was reading on my last combi ride from Moleps to Gabs and the people in the combi still would not leave me alone. While I don’t mind conversation, it is tedious when the conversation is a bunch of people (both men and women) talking about how they need to get me a “sugar momma.” Yeah, that seriously happened.
Ok, that is about all I got for riding combis. See also my tips for riding the bus. Oh wait, nevermind, busses suck. Never take them. Ever.