Saturday, January 22, 2011

Public Transport

The road from my village to my regional capital, Kaya, is unpaved with quite a few inclines on the way. So, I recently looked into alternatives to get to Kaya instead of biking (which can take an hour and fifteen minutes to over two hours depending on the speed and direction of the wind). So, I asked one of my coworkers at the health center what my options were. He asked around and said there was a “car” coming at 4 o’clock. I asked him where to go and he said to just stand on the side of the road and wait.
So, like a typical American showing up for transport a little early just in case, I got to the side of the road a little before 4. This waiting location is an excellent spot to stand if you want to greet every single member of the village…which was not on the top of my to-do list at the moment. It’s our “main road” in village because it’s the road to Kaya. On one side is the health center and on the other side is the school and little boutiques where people hang out. Along the road there are some women selling fried dough and millet cakes. I stood there, waiting, greeting every single person that went by.
An hour later, when daylight was starting to disappear, a giant truck starting coming towards me on the road. This truck was a small semi-truck transporting everything you could possibly think of. I flagged down the driver and he slowed down a bit, but never quite stopped. The back doors flung open and a Burkinabe man reached his arm out to me and pulled me into the back with my bag. Then, another man jumped out and grabbed my bike and threw it into the back, then ran to catch up with the truck and jumped in himself. The back of the truck was completely full. There were enormous, white rice sacks full of various vegetables and grains. On top of these sacks there were piles of people’s belongings and piles of people themselves. I had to climb over mountains of crap with people helping push me along the way, until I was in the middle of the car sitting on top of 3 sacks piled up so high that my head was touching the ceiling of the truck. The truck was so full that people were hanging out of the open sides. Every time another car would pass us on the road, everyone’s heads would promptly swing inside in unison to avoid being hit. Those of us on the top of the piles had to shield our heads from hitting the roof, which was common on this bumpy, unpaved road. This was a great way to experience public transport for the first time by myself in Burkina.
Unfortunately, this uncomfortable and inconvenient semi-truck is not always available and never predictable. It leaves on random days, at random times. So, on my way back from Kaya it wasn’t available. Instead, I went to the bus station and found a bush taxi. A bush taxi is typically a broken down mini-van. The concept of a bush taxi is a lot like the game where you see how many people you can fit into a car or a telephone booth in London. In this particular bush taxi we fit 34 people inside the car. On top of the car everyone’s luggage and bikes were strapped together, along with 5 additional people sitting on top of our belongings. I was given a seat in the middle of the van leaning against the window. I had an older man in front of me leaning back onto my chest, a small child to my side leaning his head on my shoulder and a woman with a child on her lap behind me, kicking me constantly (and at one point this kid fell asleep on my back and drooled on me).
With this many people in the mini-van, we were driving around 10 mph the entire way to my village. And with all of the weight, we had to lighten the load each time we encountered an incline or decline in the road (which is pretty often on my road). So, every ten minutes, half of the van would get out and walk next to it for a while, then pile back inside. And did I mention that the door was broken, so each time this had to happen, someone had to jump off the top of the van and take off the entire door to the van to let everyone out, then put the door back on before the car moved forward? I could have walked to my village faster than this bush taxi trip. I got to my village by nighttime and immediately went home and took a bucket bath to remove the sweat, dirt and drool from myself.
I think I might be sticking to biking from now on?

1 comment:

  1. haha we had the same thing as a "bush taxi" in South Africa. They were called "cumbies". My favorite memory is having my face sqashed against the window while the woman next to me breast fed her baby, then fell asleep with breast still out and baby attached haha! There was a chicken under my seat too! The weirdest thing I thought was in such a hot place, such close have these people not discovered deodorant?! Miss you Hayles! Can't wait to come ride the bush taxi with you, or better, maybe I can just ride on ur handle bars?