29 July 2011

I Miss Trains

When I was studying French, I took the train everywhere.  Whether it be the RER from Massy to Paris or the Métro around the City of Light or the TGV down to Aix-en-Provence for some time at L'Eau Vive.  I love trains!  Even more than airplanes.  I don't know why, but I love trains.

Unfortunately, we don't have trains in Niger.  We have bicycles, handbikes, donkey carts, camels, 4x4's, bush taxis, and buses.  And since when you're a single, you don't raise funds for a car, bus is the transport option of choice when needing a little R&R away in the big city.

A fellow OT was passing through from Danja Hospital, SIM's leprosy hospital 4 hours further east from Galmi, on her way to Niamey.  Since the bus is always way more fun with someone else, I decided to go with.

We had a bit of uncertainty trying to get the tickets, but it all worked out in the end.  The bus was scheduled for 8, we were told to get there a bit early in case the bus was ahead of schedule.  Being that this is Africa, I should have known that what that meant was really 'get there a bit early of an hour later than the scheduled time.'  So C. and I sat for an hour and a half at the 'station'.

When the first bus of the parade passed by I said a very genuine merci seigneur that we were not on that bus.  It was little more than a tin can on wheels . . . the front door was held to the bus by a single hinge and man charged with holding it in place.  You can imagine my sigh of relief when our company's bus arrived and the front door was intact.

When the bus pulled up, we hung around outside waiting for them to put our bags on . . . but they hurried us on to the crowded bus before we could be sure.

I followed C. through the sea of people searching for seats . . . which there were none.  Thankfully a teenage boy offered me his seat . . . I'm still not certain how C.'s became suddenly available.  Trying to get to my seat, however, required skill and agility I don't have.  When not stepping over a person, the aisle was obstructed by luggage and water coolers.

Now, for those of you who have never had this experience first hand, take my word for it . . . when it comes to buses outside of the west, there is no such thing as A Personal Space Bubble.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it's confiscated at customs even before we board the plane at home . . . it's just that sometimes we don't really recognize it's been taken until it's too late.  Lets just say it's been a long time since I've had a stranger sit on me.

As we took off, I noticed that my backpack (which had all my clothes in it) had in fact not been stashed under the bus, but was on the floor between the driver and the passenger-side door.  For the first three stops, it was then accosted by every passenger boarding or disembarking.  By the fourth stop, it was gone.  I said a quick selfish prayer asking God that it had been stashed below and not lifted by a now-long-gone-former-passenger.

We drove along, slowly, for about three hours when the bus pulled over.  We sat for twenty minutes as the driver and his buddy tried to get the front door to close.  It had opened as we drove, and now they couldn't get it to stay latched.  Figures.

Somehow they managed and we were back on our way.  But the best part is that once we got to the next stop, they couldn't open the door.

Overall, the trip wasn't bad.  They played west African pop music over the speakers off and on . . . BigMomma sitting diagonally from me seemed very displeased with our presence . . . and it rained the whole time.  But again, not bad.

That is, until we arrived in Niamey.  We squished through the mud of the parking lot searching for C.'s suitcases and my backpack.  Next time, my selfish prayer will include the clothes of whomever I'm traveling with!  The bus driver informed us that there hadn't been enough room under the bus when we got on, so our things were coming on the next bus . . . three hours behind.  Figures!

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