I write this blog to help you better understand what life is like for an outsider in this little corner of the world I'm currently calling home . . . okay, so really it's to help ME better understand my not-so-brand-new-anymore context . . . but you've been invited to be a 'fly on the wall'. So in the spirit of the holistic approach, I documented my trip from the capital back home via the Nigerien version of the BulletTrain: the bus.
Since most of you will never have the privilege of riding the bus in WestAfrica, here it is, chronicled as it was happening:
It's 4:40am. I've been on the bus half an hour and we are still sitting in the parking lot. Outside the morning air is comfortably cool. In here, however, I've broken a sweat. And there's nothing quite like breathing the recycled air of 75 strangers. I was supposed to get here earlier, but my cab driver showed up 40 minutes late. Which, from his point of view, was a courtesy, as I wouldn't have to wait as long for the bus to leave...since we westerners are impatient and don't like waiting. What he doesn't realize is that this is a 7 hour trip and by showing up 'late' I've lost the advantage of getting a decent seat. He's clearly never been forced to squeeze in next to the biggest Hajiya on the bus! In addition to the lack of seating options, arriving late also means no overhead storage space. But I learned something on my last bus trip: it's culturally acceptable, in situations such as these, to push. Not wanting to be buried alive under a few kgs of semiprecious carrots and cucumbers, I shoved my reusable walmart bag above me, forcing multiple plastic trash bins and various winter coats to yield to my arrival. But I'm second guessing that decision all of a sudden as we've just now pulled out of the gate and already the bags of two passengers ahead of me have tumbled to the floor taking out an old Tuareg man in the process. I'm hoping the force of my wedged veggies will act upon the resistance of the parkas surrounding them, and stay put. 05:30 I've been trying to sleep, but there's just something about three clashing odors of incense that is keeping me awake. Or maybe it's Hajiya snoring in my right ear. 05:5o We've just pulled off the road. 94% of the passengers have descended from the bus. It's prayer time. Carrying mats, beads and plastic kettles of water for washing hands, face and feet, my fellow travelers have filed onto the shoulder of Main Street (the sole paved road that runs east from Chad to Burkina Faso to the west), face where the sun has yet to rise, bow and pray. 07:08
I was just dozing off again as we made our first drop-off/pick-up. It wasn't the passengers shoving by that startled me awake, no it was the roar of the jet propelled air conditioner that came on overhead. I guess this is why I was advised to keep my sweatshirt handy. 07:47 We are back on the road. An employee of the bus company is heading down the aisle...I guess this would be the equivalent of a commercial airline's beverage service: a homemade bean cake in a baggie and a banana flavored yogurt-in-a-bag! I thought about asking for a diet coke, but the guy didn't seem to have much French.
As he made his way down the aisle, he pulled the plastic trash cans from the overhead storage and spaced them evenly between rows. And while I am thankful that we have all been encouraged to dispose of our rubbish in a conscientious manner, something tells me these are going to get the way when the time comes for me to disembark.
10:30 I've spent the past five hours sliding off my seat. One would think that if the left illiac crest of the pelvis is wedged beneath the arm rest, the body would stay put.
Throughout my training, I've always been taught, if you want to control the movement of the entire body, the pelvis is the steering-wheel. Well, I'm sorry to break the laws of anatomy and kinesiology, but truth is, when the bench seats of a bus are covered with a thick plastic tarp, no matter how jammed ones pelvic girdle maybe, the slip-n-slide is inevitable. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if big Hajiya hadn't occupied her seat as well as half of mine.
We are just minutes away from Galmi! Wow that went much quicker (and quieter) than I was anticipating. The old lady across the aisle on my left saw I was gathering my things together. She smiled and welcomed me to Niger. She told me she was happy I was here and glad to have seen me today on the bus.
One of my favorite things about living in WestAfrica is how friendly the people are. Warm and welcoming . . . wherever you go. Even big Hajiya, when she was awake and out from under her blanket.
I have a special souvenir from my bus trip . . . a nice big black-and-blue bruise on my left hip where my illium was crushed beneath the seat's armrest for seven hours.
I tried applying the just-push-till-it-gives rule to my seat-mate, but Hajiya just wouldn't budge! Next time I'm getting there early so I can find the tiniest little granny and claim her for the trip!