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Sierra Leone News: Decorative public transportation vehicles

I’m sure that many people around the world, even Sierra Leone, have witnessed in one way or another the sea of yellow taxis in New York City all clambering to get to where they need to go. Each of the sedans acts like a fish swimming in the thick of a strong current, unable to break out. One taxi blends into another until it’s near impossible to tell one from another. It’s a scene of homogeneity.
I’m not from New York; I’ve been there twice and trying to get around with a taxi is crazy. Just being in the vicinity is stressful. I’m someone who likes to soak in my surroundings and try to gain some sense of familiarity with them but, in New York with what appears to be the same car driving past me thousands of times over, I often get lost in the chaos. It’s like trying to keep track of a single ant in a line of thousands. Without any semblance of individualism, it can spawn quite the headache.
Here in Sierra Leone, there are four main types of public transportation: vans, taxis, kekes, and bikes. While each type of vehicle is generally the same model as the others on the road, the appearance of them can vary drastically from one to another. Not only are the paint jobs usually done in a homemade, custom fashion, but the owner often adorns the vehicle with its own name (at least, I think it’s a name), typically on the back side. This is true for the majority of the vehicles, except for bikes, and I really appreciate the effort towards individualism, creativity, and labeling.
On kekes, as well as other types of transit, I’ve seen phrases on the back of the three-wheeled scooters that read “Road Tiger”, “No Joke, and “My Wife”. Probably the most common names, however, are ones that have religious links like “God Time is the Best Time” and “Allah is the Best”. While these small vessels only come in red, blue, or yellow, their personalization options stretch far beyond their factory-set colour schemes. Further, many keke drivers, like pretty much all Sierra Leoneans, are football fans and they often put up stickers, flags, or even banners in the interior of their vehicle to show support for their favorite club. As a Manchester United fan, I’m happy to have seen more of the Man U logos than probably any other team.
Concerning taxis here, they still have the yellow sides, like the ones in NYC, but that’s just about the only aspect that I’ve found to be consistent throughout. The make and model of the car can be different and, just like the kekes, the taxis can have colourful labels and artwork added to their backside. Because the backs of the taxis are mostly made up of glass windows, this reduces the space for creative expression, but some drivers still manage something.
Being larger vehicles with a larger canvas, vans or poda-podas usually have more creative designs. I’ve seen some that have full murals stretching from one side, around the back, and to the other side. Some of the podas even have what appear to me to be advertisements for some local products, like water, but they’re created in a brighter, more attractive format than the taxi advertising I’m used to in the US.
I’m a fan of self-expression and so this experience has been a positive one for me. Regardless of the transport type, I can attempt to go anywhere in Freetown and I will encounter some form of customization of the appearance of the vehicle. Creativity spawns genius, and I believe that this creative trend is a beneficial one for the country.
By Jack Russillo
Monday September 03, 2018.

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