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9.15.2010

Ships in the Night

The most immediate story starts here, or here if you want to go back to Momabsa, or here if you want to include my summer posts from Africa.

I enter the Bus station a bit rattled, but actually encouraged. All I have to do was identify the correct bus, get on it, and then I can sleep, rolling or not. I am getting tired enough that I am sure sleeping will not be a problem.

The Bus Station consists of two areas; An outer courtyard, above the buses and open to the night air, and an inner semi-enclosed room.  The courtyard is a concrete pad with two walls and some benches, it also has a food kiosk, and to let you know that you were really in a bus station a TV anchored up in the corner. The Office has a desk with a employee behind it, an area for parcels, and an area  marked "sleeping space" with reed mats on the concrete floor and sections marked for men and women. A dozen people are making use of it, despite the bright fluorescent light - they really do have the gift of sleep. I see no evidence of restrooms.

I make my way through the crush at the desk and display my ticket to the agent. I ask if the midnight bus has left for Kigali.

"No, it has not gone."
"Good, I want to get on that bus."
"I am sorry -  That bus is full - you will have to go on the 1am bus."
"Sir, I was supposed to be on the through bus, and was promised in Eldoret that I would be put on the first bus out of here - that would be the midnight bus."
"Actually, Ma'am, your ticket is for travel on the 8th of July and in 15 minutes it will be the 9th so you are going to have to buy a new ticket for the 1am bus."
"Now see here, Sir, I was sold a THROUGH ticket to start on the 8th, it is not my fault that I am not right now on my way to Kigali. You will send me on my way as quickly as possible! - and I am not giving you another shilling!"

He silently writes "1am" on a piece of scrap paper  and hands it to me as if we were not both conversing in the Queen's English. I take his paper  and just as  silently crush it in my hand, drop it on the floor and stomp on it while giving him my best steely gaze.

I lean in.
"Get me on that next bus - or you are going to wish you had!"
He gives me a wry smile and says "We shall see what we can do."

Deciding when to be patient and when to have a fiery temper display is an African finesse point. Guess right and way opens magically.  Guess wrong and you will backburner yourself into the previous century.  At 12 hours of uncomfortable travel I am getting beyond finesse.But I think that I just might have guessed right.

I decide to do a little recon. I go out to the courtyard and start polling any passengers who are awake about their destination.  There are two directions to go that night. South to Kigali, Rwanda, or North to Juba, Sudan. I am very clear that I do not want to accidentally get on the wrong bus, fall asleep, and wake up in the Sudan.  I identify a young girl traveling with her old father. They are Burundians going through Kigali to Buja. The girl has English. They are waiting for the midnight bus and have been there for a couple of hours. I  tell her, that if she doesn't mind, I am going to attach myself to their party and that when she gets on a bus I was going to get on that bus. "I'll just tell them I am your Mama." She laughs. She is glad to have the company.  I lean my pack against the concrete wall, and put my small bag under my knees and pretend it is a recliner.  I sit and practice relaxation.  I don't know where bus stations all over the globe buy speakers, but they are universally bad, and here the messages are completely in Kiswahili, of when I get about one word in ten. I ask my new friend Chantelle if she is catching them. She is. God bless multi-lingual children. I ask her if she has found any bathrooms. She says they are there - down by the gate  "But they are not nice." Burundian girls are tough, if she is turning her nose up at it, it has to be bad, and I do not want to get within 10 meters of that gate. I decide to tough it out.  She and her Baba have plates of food - Potatoes and Beans and greens.  Apparently the kisok is feeding transfer passengers.  But you have to get a voucher from the man at the desk.  hmmm.  There is also  fried bread and cokes for sale, but I had no shillings. I eat my second apple.

We wait. Midnight comes and goes. I keep checking my pocket watch. Chantelle says "You need to work on your patience." I am quite accustomed to being eldered by African teenage girls and tell her that she is right. I settle in to watch the movie. It is The Karate Kid - the new one - with Jackie Chan - Dubbed into Kiswahili.  The layers of  surreal of this are not actually calculable. But the plot is so predictable that I follow it with ease. Baba Chantelle dozes with his head in his hands. Then the movie is over, Chantelle looks at me, and I say to Chantelle "I would look at my watch but I am practicing patience." She laughs and says "I will investigate."
She comes back with the report that the midnight bus has it's engine open and several men inside.  She is obviously peeved. The 1am bus has not arrived. It is 1:30. I refrain from counseling Chantelle about patience.

At 2am the 1am bus from Juba arrives and is re-designated the midnight bus to Kigali. When they announce this Chantelle pops up like toast, rouses the Baba and says to me - "Tu Gende (Let's move)." I am in complete agreement and we make the bus, which is thankfully inside the barrier, just as the last of the Sudanese passengers get off.   We choose seats, Chantelle and Baba across the aisle, me trying the Southwest Airlines Jedi Mind trick of "You really don't want to sit with me," to get the extra seat. I say to Chantelle, "There is no Earthly power that can get me off this bus now" and she smiles.  I am hearing a lot of Kirundi/Kinyarwanda which is a great comfort. I almost manage the extra seat until the last passenger joins me. He is about 25, and at least 6 feet tall, and chatty. I decide not to care. I will ride next to Shaquille O'Neal in a foul mood if this bus will just go South. I wish I knew which way was south.

At 2:30 the midnight bus rolls out. Surely nothing can go wrong now.
15.5 hours into a supposed 16 hour trip and not half-way there.





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