Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Adventure on the Night Bus

I wrote this a couple months ago but thought I'd post it today since I'll be traveling for a couple days. I will be taking the bus down to Lusaka and back again so please keep me in your prayers.

In the middle of August I traveled down to Lusaka, our capital city with Jasmine to pick up our newest volunteers. It was also an opportunity for Jasmine to get away from life at the orphanage and relax. We watched some movies, ate ice cream, said goodbye to a Peace Corps Volunteer who had finished her term of service and enjoyed life in the big city.

Late one night we took a taxi out to the airport and met up with Katherine and Kirstie who were going to volunteer with us for 3 months. It was their first time traveling alone (in fact it was the first time on an airplane for one of them) and so we were glad their 3 airplane rides had been smooth and all their luggage arrived safely and on the same plane--not always the case.

The next afternoon after some shopping for supplies we went to the bus station and bought tickets for the night bus. Because we had so much luggage we were asked to be at the station at 2:30 PM for a 4 PM departure.

At 3:00 we decided to go ahead and sit on the bus because there was nowhere else to go and we were being harassed by people who were excited by the sight of 3 young white girls (myself not included). Vendors singled us out, drunks attempted conversation and children called out 'muzungu, muzungu' over and over.

Finally at 5 PM the bus moved out of the station. Remember our departure time was for 4 PM so by African standards we were off to a good start.

The good start quickly was lost as we spent over an hour at the weigh station 3 hours into the trip. We ate some dinner (cheese, crackers and an apple) around 9 PM and then settled in for the night. As always I had brought my head lamp so I could read during the long journey. No sooner had I turned it on when the conductor shouted "no lights"! I tried to shield the light by holding my pillow over the light and reading low in my lap but nothing doing. "No lights!", he continued to shout. Right after I extinguished my light our two traveling companions decided they needed to find something in their backpack and used a small flashlight to do it. "No lights!!!" was again shouted from the front of the bus. By now most of the passengers were chuckling over this little drama. The conductor had so worked himself into a state that even those unfortunate passengers who attempted to use their phones to check the time were yelled at.

This all took place around midnight so we tried to get comfortable and get some sleep. Just about two hours later we heard a huge bang and felt a thump as the bus began weaving across the road. I prayed urgently for the Lord's protection and the bus slowed down and came to a stop. All the passengers were shouting and wondering aloud what might have happened. Once it became apparent that we had not blown a tire I worried that we had hit a person. There is very little wildlife in Zambia along the roads aside from farm animals and they usually bed down for the night.

As I sat there praying, the conductor boarded the bus and asked if anyone had a torch (flashlight) he could borrow. All the passengers broke into laughter and said "the muzungus do". I passed my headlamp up, chuckling along with the others but also asking "who is thankful now, huh?".

Not being able to control my curiosity anymore as well as knowing what Tom would have done if he'd been there and therefore what he'd require of me, I borrowed Katherine's flashlight and got off the bus to investigate.

This is what I saw first. Complete devastation. We hit a large animal! Everyone was saying what a miracle that the bus had stayed upright. Several people said we must have had angels holding onto the four corners of the bus.

There was animal hair caught in the bus fender. Is the piece in front a fender or a bumper? What's the difference? Someone solve this mystery for me, please!

I moved around to the back of the bus where the men had brought the fallen animal. I still don't know what this is. A waterbuck, bushback, impala? Maybe one of my readers can tell me. I think the poor thing was pregnant.

Upon closer inspection of the front of the bus we found only one headlight remaining and that one was pretty mangled. The conductor and someone else worked to dismantle the wires hanging from the left side of the bus so they could collect enough pieces to get one headlight working. You can see how dark the night was. We were out in the middle of nowhere and the bus didn't even have its hazard or caution lights on so we were sitting ducks right in the middle of the road. When I heard a truck coming I ran to the back of the bus and shone the flashlight back and forth to alert them to our presence.

They had to pull off the rack or whatever that thing is called and put it inside for later.

They managed to pull together enough to get one light working somewhat. At the end they couldn't get the bulb to sit right in the center of the light so they shoved plastic grocery sacks all around to hold it in place. Gotta love what they can do with plastic bags here.

Finally, a working light.

We drove very slowly and finally reached the next major city at 7 AM. After waiting around for a while and then eventually switching buses we made it safely home--12 hours of travel had become 18 hours. We had been on the bus for 20 hours and were so glad to get off. Another episode of African travel behind us.


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