1. They are just adorable!
Looking a bit like toys cars, they charge around town and can turn on a dime. They don’t take any nonsense from big trucks, honking and passing them at will. Easy to hop in and out of, the bajaj can squeeze in 3 average size people quite comfortably, even with their baggage or an extra child on a lap. In other countries they are called auto rickshaw, three-wheeler, tuk-tuk , trishaw, autorick, rick, mototaxi or baby taxi.
2. Each bajaj is unique
Each driver takes pride in customizing his bajaj (yes, all drivers here are men, mostly young men, though a colleague told me there is one female bajaj driver in her town) with stickers, and often side murals with slogans and images. Inside one invariably finds curtains, ceiling fringes and of course the religion of the driver quickly becomes apparent with religious icons or symbolic messages…
3. They are always are there when you need them
I have never had to wait more than 2-3 minutes to catch a bajaj – It seems in Woldia the supply and demand ratio is just right. Bajaj replaced horse and donkey carts about two years ago in Woldia and have improved lives of both people and animals. And they will take you wherever you want to go. No schedules, waiting around, fighting crowds at rush hour, having to climb stairs like at home. It’s the most stress- free transport system I have ever experienced. And since we can walk to and from work, we only tend to need them on the weekends.
4. They are energy efficient
The bajaj has a two-stroke engine and typically gets 35 km per litre. Their top speed is 50 km per hour and they cruise at 35 km/hour.
Originating in India Bajaj Auto began in 1945 by selling 2 and 3 wheelers and ranks as the world’s 4th largest producer of such vehicles. The company went public in 1960 and now has sales in 50 countries. In1995 it produced its ten millionth vehicle and produced and sold 1 million vehicles in a year. Currently the company is developing a small, energy efficient car to compete with Tata Motor’s Nano. They will sell for about $2500 and get 30 km per litre or about two times the average small car.
5. They are cost efficient
In Wolida we pay either one Birr (about 8 cents Canadian) to go to the bus station or Adago or two Birr (16 cents CDN) to get from our place to Piazza, a distance of about 3 km. Price is per person so usually the driver has 3 passengers, often picking up and dropping off friendly folks along the route. Not having to bargain the fare is a blessed relief. Thankfully, we don’t have any contract taxis here where one has to barter for the fare.
If your bajaj gets stuck in the mud, no tow truck is needed, someone passing by easily can push you out!
6. They are full of stories
The other day a traditionally dressed elderly Muslim man hopped into a bajaj with me. Mahmet and I had a conversation in broken Amharic where we determined that I was from Canada (“China?” he had asked), taught at the teachers’ college and had lived in Woldia for 6 months. Then a boy, who looked about 10, got in and sat between us with a roll of something wrapped in paper. “What is it?” I asked. He showed me a plastic bag with leaves in it. “Oh no, I said, not khat – do you chew?” Yes, he did. Mahmed and I told him it was bad for him while the boy simply looked passively at us. When Mahmed got out a man dressed in modern pants and shirt hopped in. We talked about how the boy should be in school and not be selling drugs. Then he had an Amharic conversation with the boy and said to me – “He is useless.” I gave the boy a squeeze on the shoulders and said “Oh no, no one is useless.” The boy got off at the intersection. The man told me he found out the boy was an orphan supporting himself by selling Khat. There are lots of children in Woldia in this situation. I was gald I had given him a supportive squeeze. I asked the man where he worked and he said “Near you, I know you, I am a teacher at Woldia Primary next to the college.”
Everyone knows us as we do stand out a bit here! Invariably the people we meet are friendly, curious and pleased to learn we are in Woldia as volunteers. Most bajaj drivers know where we live and will drive us right to our door without being asked unless we tell them to “wora,j” (stop) on the main road so we can walk the extra few meters home.
7. Bajajis are community minded
Every event seems to include a community minded bajaj “herd” parading around the field tooting their horns or waiting en masse to provide rides home to people afterward.
8. They will carry most anything
From firewood to bulky water heaters and even animals – dead or alive, the bajaj will accommodate your purchases. Behind the seat there is room for parcels and even medium sized suitcases will fit in.
9. They like to celebrate weddings!
They dress up nicely and will parade your wedding party around the roundabout with a symphony of horns.
10. Even goats love them!
By the way, others have fallen for the Bajaj – you can read an interesting Bajaj Tales blog by a Dutch geologist driving all over Africa – his tag line is “30,000 km on bajaj motorcycles through Africa for charity.”