3 Buses (part 2 from The Rainy African Sky)
Continued from part 1, The Rainy African Sky…..
In that morning when we were together, before all the meetings, the conversation with Koko and the storm I tried to get my laptop working that broke the day before and I shared my travel to Children’s town story. That trip is a trip not to forget and they listened to what I had to say, so I began:
Landless corner was the place where I had to go off the bus. I was wondering why it was called Landless; how can that be? After a couple of hours bussing I arrived. The place was open – bigger places both from mud and asphalt was there where buses could stop to change passengers. Most of the big buses pass by without even limiting speed. All goes so fast and here at landless it seems that the pace of life even goes slower than I already experienced in Zambia.
I crossed the main road and saw a blue-white mini bus already leaving out of sight on a muddy road to Children’s Town, an orpanage my volunteers were working with, where I also was heading. Well, the next one was standing there to leave once it was full. I was the first passenger to arrive and I knew exactly what that meant – waiting, endlessly.
I grabbed a newspaper that went from person to person and started reading.
On the front page was a picture of the terrible bus accident from the day before. 51 people died, instantly, when a truck collided head to head with the bus after a car didn’t see it coming whilst overtaking the bus.
I passed the scene too when I was traveling to landless. It was something I never had seen before. Debris lying around, spread over at least 200 meter. Then the bus was there, totally rid open and split in 3 parts. In the end 53 died and only 2 or 3 survived. They were sleeping and they have the luck to open their eyes again.
What was left was the presence of death. Traffic slowed down and passed respectfully by. Although there was a moment to take pictures, none did, except for a car that had stopped. Religious as the people are, many prayed to their God to let him receive the lost souls well.
The waiting continued but slowly some people arrived and one and a half hour later we left. Well, left…. A couple of meters later we stopped to squeeze more in and to stop again at a bakery that marked the end of civilization. Not knowing that I would need 3 buses and 3 km on foot to arrive 6 hours later than planned in the rain. This already was African time even for Africans!
Although the distance only is 40 km, it took ages. Zambia in the rainy season. Roads? What’s that? The road was a reddish-brown mud lane that was almost better accessible by boat than by car.
Closer to the main road many farms are producing maize. The further we went rural away from life also the big fields were getting thinner and thinner. Now there was only high grass, typical landscapes, trees and local farming, which was mainly for own consumption. Where one could see brick houses with aluminium plated roofs, now mud houses with straw roofs are left. We passed 2 villages where people grouped together sharing the little they have.
These are people without a voice: you don’t see them, hear them or even realize they are there. This group is silenced by the fast pace of the rest of the world who are so lucky to have all they have not. Now landless actually made sense.
The road was in slopes and the water still was gushing down hill and left the road at the sides or it piled up in a big puddle where we had to go through. The driver analyzed each situation properly not to get stuck. He did quite well, we only got stuck once. The back of the bus was too long and the bumper got in the mud not to get out again. The wheels were spinning and spinning and that’s it – we got it out. We managed to get loose and we continued our way. Going around the front I noticed liquid coming out of the bus. Water of the puddle I thought but soon after driving again, I smelled diesel and got a strange feeling of what would happen next.
At one of the 2 places we passed through, the driver had to buy fuel – something that never happened before Martin said. Martin is one of the teachers in the orphanage. Indeed, a couple of kilometers further the engine stalled and we stopped. There we stood, somewhere 12 Km before destination.
We were halfway up a slope. Nothing to see at both sides. It was a while ago that we passed some houses and in the front we saw a telephone pole in the distance. At the other side of it, it would only be 9 Km left. For my understanding not too far but in this present reality it was for sure a bridge too far to start walking.
The sun was setting and slowly it was getting dark. Martin had contact with Children’s Town and there it was bad; rain, rain and rain. I was stubborn in seeing the volunteers today because I wanted too and no rain of stranded bus would stop me. I just had to keep my part of the agreement, also by arriving late.
The storm passed Children’s Town and was now heading our way. All of us were looking at it and realizing that we were not too fortunate. Meanwhile, the driver spotted the problem and fixed a leak in a tube by wrapping a piece of rubber around it. Two guys ran back to fetch extra fuel from somewhere for us to continue.
It was getting darker and darker and from the distance we saw the rain getting nearer and nearer. Suddenly the wind came up and soon we all went in the bus as the first drops of rain fell out of the clouds. There we were, all of us, patiently sitting the storm out while the guys were fetching fuel.
It was already nearly dark and the guys came back with fuel and at the same time we saw the very last bus from Lusaka arriving in the distance. Some more cars had passed but they were all full so we couldn’t hitch. Surprisingly slowly and unstable came the bus up the hill and stopped next to us. We had to change to this big bus just when the engine of the minibus started. It was fixed for now. The big bus, however, would pass Children’s Town and the minibus wouldn’t, so the choice was easily made.
Now the real adventure started! The bus was an old Indian Tata bus. It was too old for Indian standards but still good enough for this mud road, where only old buses come. India is notorious regarding its traffic, vehicle- and road conditions. It took over the honour to be the world’s un-safest country to drive in from China. Meanwhile in the bus, I was sitting next to a young woman and her children with her bag on my lap. Martin was sitting in front of me at the other side of the aisle with my hand luggage and my big bag was in front of me on the floor and behind me was Vincent, another teacher of Children’s Town, where I started a conversation with. He too came from Lusaka by this extremely delayed bus.
The reason for this delay was very fast very obvious. It drove terribly slow, difficult to change gear, leak in the water system (it lost water faster than I possibly can drink) and 2 people were needed to steer this massive piece of iron. To the left, right, left, half sliding off the road, just not tipping and back again!
Flabbergasted as I was, I was wondering whether the driver was drunk or something. Vincent assured me he was not – it just was a mechanic problem and I should enjoy this rural African experience.
“Did you have this so extreme before?” I asked.
– “No, this is even spectacular for me!”, he replied with a big smile.
Walking was almost faster I figured but I decided to keep the mood up as we would arrive after about 8 Km.
Then!! The bus was sliding! The back in a ditch, the front followed soon and the bus tipped in a near 45 degree angle! We stood still, sat, waited, looked at eachother and then… out, out, out, out, out!! Door open, bags fell, people rushed and without real panic everyone was out very fast. I helped carrying small kids through windows as the bus seemed to be unstable with so many people at that side.
Luckily everyone could come out and the bus didn’t fall over. After giving back the children to their mothers I was looking for my things. My big bag was there but unfortunately my small bag had fallen out of the door, in the water, washed away and got stuck behind the wheel of the bus.Quickly I took it, opened it and all I saw was water… everything in it was wet: laptop, kindle, documents and other smaller things. My camera was in an extra bag so that one survived. I tried to dry all the wet things but I figured that it was too late and I gave up. I put everything in Martins bag, put the camera around my waist and started to help the young woman. Also her kids I carried to the other side of the ditch and gave her a hand so she also could cross.
Nearly everyone tried to push the bus somehow to anywhere it can move by itself but that was mission impossible. Soon they gave up. Some already started walking, some were waiting and others were calling. This was the very last bus that passed by and it got stuck too. Some cars passed by and picked people up; inside or outside standing on trucks or pick ups.
There was one more small minibus coming; it was so packed! But still we squeezed ourselves in. Martin, Vincent’s kid, a student and I. Pressed and well we drove a good 5 Km till town. From there we walked the last 3 Km to Children’s Town.
Martin, the student and I with the backpack and the kid on my shoulders. There we walked, the weather calmed down and we were wading through all the puddles that the rain had left us. The closer we came to Children’s Town, the weaker my flashlight became. When we arrived it was nearly finished.
Just as the day was and I was so happy to meet the volunteers! Now it was for me wading through a flooded Children’s Town meeting familiar faces who I just needed to see to feel comfortable again. Wading through that last water was a problem, but no problem because at the end of the day I was happy.
Yes I am happy. Happy with this trip, experiences and the learned lessons. I am ready to continue being empowered myself to do even more. Soon my plane lands and then we move on. What am I a lucky person and I would like to invite all to be part of this: to be connected – with Learning from life using talents.