It's hard not to love a ``tap tap.''
Part bus, part taxi, it lumbers along the streets of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, relieving the city's drabness and carrying its poor.
The first thing that catches the eye is a rainbow of color. Most tap taps are brightly painted and intricately detailed. Some sport cutouts of upraised hands to warn motorists of their frequent stops. Most carry religious sayings: ``God who gives''; ``Christ is capable''; ``Jesus, the good boss.''
Some of the trucks display a Biblical reference instead. A favorite is Psalm 91: ``He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.'' It's as if, in this country of poverty and hardship, tap taps fan out to broadcast hope.
Emblazoned on the front of Jean Felix's tap tap is La Parole du Seigneur (``The Word of the Lord''). He has been driving this truck for four years, hauling people from downtown Port-au-Prince to a market several miles west of the city. He has the impossible task of negotiating the hectic traffic while collecting fares from the two dozen or so people stuffed into his vehicle or hanging on the back.
``That's not a very easy thing,'' Mr. Felix says. The official fare is five gourdes (about 40 cents), but many passengers come up to his window to plead their case. Some pay four gourdes; some pay three. He tosses the bills into his glove compartment.
A ride cost one gourde three years ago. But as the recent United Nations' embargo took hold, gasoline prices skyrocketed. Felix has paid up to $14 for a gallon of diesel and so has had to raise fares to stay in business. It's not an easy balance.
``Really, it should be better, but I don't have gas,'' he says. Besides paying for fuel, he rents the truck - a 1980 Daihatsu - for $21 a day. With the embargo now ended, the price of diesel fuel has declined to about $1.50, which should make it easier for tap tap drivers to lower their fares and still make ends meet.
Technically speaking, Felix's truck is a step up from a tap tap, which opens up from the back and sports two rude benches. Passengers enter his truck from the side and sit on metal benches covered with plastic. In Creole, the vehicle is called a bwa fouill a dugout canoe.
Tap taps provide the only transportation the majority of Haitians can afford. Patricia Calixte takes Felix's route every day to get to her job in a downtown florist shop. The ride is comfortable, although slow.
Some of the newer tap taps (which, sadly, don't sport the colorful paint jobs of the older trucks) zip about at respectable speeds. But for the most part, tap taps ignore the frantic traffic around them. ``Christ is capable'' and ``The Word of the Lord'' proceed at a stately pace.