A zemidjan story

Zemidjans and cars share the road in Cotonou

This weeks blog post was written by Kate, one of John's co-leaders of Discover Benin 2015:

   For the past month, John Ramsey (from Wycliffe USA and a much more experienced travel veteran than me) and I have been catching our own zemidjans (motorcycle taxis) to the Wycliffe Benin office. Negotiating the price for a zem ride intimidated me a year ago, but it gets a lot easier with practice. There are factors that hike up the price from time to time, like flooded roads and rising gas prices. But on most days, taking two zems from the house to the office should cost 200 francs (about 40 cents) apiece.

    Cotonou is a big city, but when you live in the same neighborhood for long enough, it's not unheard of to be recognized by a zemidjan driver, especially when you stick out like a yovo thumb. For example, on the way to work the other day, I pointed out the Wycliffe building on the right so my driver would know where to stop. He just laughed and said, "I know, I've taken you here before!"

     Gas prices spiked in the past week, so zem drivers are charging more across the board. Taking the "normal" price for one or two special riders won't put a dent in their profits, but they can't afford to do that for everyone, so when it happens they call it a cadeau ("gift"). And if you're a yovo (white person), it's time to accept that you're last in line for that gift. A zem will sooner drive away than lose money on us, so for the past few days we have usually paid 250 francs rather than 200.

     On one morning this week, we left the house, hailed zem #1 at the end of the road, and I explained where we were going. I was about to ask "How much?" and start negotiating the price when another Beninese man passed by us on on his moto, shouted something in Fon at our zem, and continued driving down the road. The zem driver turned back to me, smiling, and translated, "He says you pay 200," gesturing for one of us to hop on. No muss, no fuss--our day was made! We were grateful to the stranger who recognized us--I think he must have been an off-duty zem driver. Maybe two yovos are twice as recognizable as one?


Popular Posts