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Zémidjan Experience – How to Ride Motor Bike Taxi of Benin

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One ride fits all – Student passengers on a Zemidjan

One thing that will strike anyone visiting Benin is the sight of men dressing in yellow shirt on their motorbikes. They are called Zémidjan (Zay-Mi-Jan), Benin’s most popular form of transportation. Zemidjan is a word from the Fon language that means “Take Me Somewhere Quick”. Another name the motorbike taxis are given is Kêkênon which means “The biker” in Fon. There are over 80,000 of these motor taxis and they wear a yellow shirt with a number on their bike so they can be easily recognized from other bike riders. It’s also a very low cost, effective form of transportation  and can quickly take you everywhere. One can catch one the same way you grab a taxi car. You hold your hand up or sometimes have to yell Zémidjan or Kêkênon to grab their attention.  It’s a fun way to drive around the city and blend in with Beninese people.

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Zemidjan at rest until he gets a client.

To be a Zémidjan, you need to have excellent navigation skills and be able to juggle multiple things.  The roads aren’t always the best and traffic can be a pain. In addition, some riders would literally either carry large items with them or better yet, there could be up to 3-4 people passenger on 1 bike. They don’t wear nor do their offer helmet. In the U.S., these actions would get you arrested  and penalized. However, when one observes them, it never gets old. Sometimes, what you see a rider carry can simply be frightening and other times, it’s simply hilarious.

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BALANCE! Woman carrying a bread basket on a Zemidjan.

Zemidjans

Accident can occur but as a surprise, accidents on these motorbikes are rare. I think this is mainly due to the types of bikes they ride. The bikes tend to be Vespa style and they are too off ground. If a wrong move is made, it’s easy to regain balance by simply grounding your feet on the floor. Since it’s a bike, there is no seat belt. Most people ride comfortably by having their hands on their laps however, if you are scared or need to feel more security, you can either wrap your arms around the riders waist or hold levers on the side or back of the bike.

 

There are 10 best tips I would suggest when grabbing a Motorbike taxi.

 

  1. The first one is to know exactly where you are going. In Benin, it’s best to give step by step directions as versus to destination address You basically are your own GPS unless you are not going to a popular common place.
  2. The second tip is to negotiate the price. There is no meter. There is a set price so always negotiate everything in Benin and don’t be afraid to deny their offer and call another biker if necessary. I would suggest also asking a local person how much a ride would cost beforehand so you get are not taken advantage of. They can recognize a tourist from a mile and immediately inflate the prices.
  3. If you are going to multiple locations or planning on using them for a longer period, negotiate even more to get a better discount. You can rent the bikers for several hours or days with no strings attached. The bikers would provide you with a mobile number to contact them and make all necessary arrangements to accommodate your needs. You don’t have to necessarily use them to transport you; they can also be used to go pick up items or run quick errands. Basically, they can be hired as a bike “chauffeur“.
  4. The third tip is specifically for female riders. Be careful getting on the bike especially if you are wearing skirts. In order to get on the bike, you have to lift your leg to the other side and seat down. If you have a tight skirt, you might not be able to do that pretty easily or your skirt might get ripped in the process. In addition, you can also flash bystanders by accident. It won’t be offensive to them but it might embarrassing for you to hear whistles from them enjoying the view. My advice would be to wear pants or shorts under your skirt to avoid any embarrassing.
  5. When coming off  a bike, get off on your left side. There is an exhaust tube on the right side that is hot. You can get burned so be careful.
  6. Hold on to items that can easily be blown away like hats, glasses, scarves and ironically wigs if you wear one. You are riding a bike that’s going semi-fast. It makes sense that the wind will blow things away.
  7. If the biker starts to slow down, it means there is a bump ahead so hold on tighter to whatever you can and be vigilant. That’s usually when accident can happen. If they hit a bump, balance can get lost then next thing you know you are on the ground.
  8. No tips are necessary but it is always welcomed. Pay them their fare and be on your way. It’s that simple.
  9. Watch the video below to get a better sense of what the Zemidjan experience might be like.
  10. Hold on tight and enjoy the Zemidjan experience. Benin is beautiful and there are many sights to explore. If you are lucky enough and happen to have a good rider, use him as your personal guide to get information about what you are seeing.  It will be their pleasure to give you details.

Have fun riding the streets of Benin!

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5 comments on “Zémidjan Experience – How to Ride Motor Bike Taxi of Benin

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