Saturday, March 07, 2009

Taxis

Before judging me for being unempathic, know that we have lots of words to say about poverty and empathy in upcoming posts.

But for now, let me tell you a story. Yesterday, we were walking, walking, walking, to look for a permanent place to stay. As it turns out, we will probably stay where we have already been sleeping. But we needed to search to make sure (it seems we are in one of the best value spots in Kolkata, so that is nice). We had walked the significant distance to the area we will be volunteering, and were working our way back to the Mother House for volunteer orientation.

We were not going to make it in time. So, we had the hotel front desk (at one of the places we were checking out--a very nice place (way out of our price range), flag us a taxi). They explained in clear terms (well, it seemed), in the local language, where we were going. The driver agreed to take us, for 50 rupees.

As we were going along, we realized the driver was going the wrong way. Not a good sign when you have been in a city for 3 days and you know the directions better than your taxi driver (reminds me of an incident in New York a few months ago...). Despite quite the language barrier, we helped him understand that he was off course. He turned around, seeming to get where we were going. Then he got pulled over, and we don't know exactly why (the efficiency thing again, it seemed). After getting back in the car, he seemed kind of upset. The police officer came and asked us where we were going, and then he gave the driver very clear directions (easy to tell with attendant hand signals).

We started driving again. The taxi driver said--I went long way, 150 rupees. I said, NO. 150 rupees he says. No I say. Back and forth. We have about a mile to go. We sit at this light for about five minutes (debating getting out), and then he starts moving and says, 300 rupees.

Okay, for the record, it was only 120 rupees to taxi an hour from the airport. This was comparatively about 1/5 the distance. We figure he probably got fined by the police officer (or was forced to bribe him anyway). He seemed really upset, so even though I had said no to 150, I had decided I'd give him 100 when we got there. But when he had raised the price to 600% of the agreed price, that was enough.

I said to Trina, "get out of the car!" She said, "now?" (we were moving). No, as soon as he stops. So we gathered our stuff, and jumped out. I did give him some money, more than I should have, but no where near what he was asking (we weren't yet to the Mother House, but we were close). I figured if we got out before the end, he couldn't claim we screwed him.

Anyway, I yelled at him a little bit. And we made it to the orientation, all the while wondering at the irony of volunteering to help the poor and yelling at them for acting like it.

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