Saturday, November 05, 2005

Across the Border

"Jesus Jesus Jesus…" crooned the bus driver’s cassette deck.

I had crossed an invisible line—well, not that invisible as it was the Zambezi River—and had left the modern infrastructure of southern Africa for the lively chaos and rampant Jesus-pop of more developing-Africa. Somehow, in spite of enjoying a lively, late dinner with two personable UK rugby coaches, I had crawled out of my Fawlty Towers bed at 4 a.m. and boarded the 5 a.m. Lusaka coach.

An older missionary couple from Mozambique had kindly brought me from the border ferry, where I really had been questioning the wisdom of my decision after spending seven hours in a hot minibus that had brought me up from Francistown, immediately following an overnight (but air-conditioned) train ride with two Botswanan women. The day before, I’d unstuck myself from the front seat of a Johannesburg-Gaborone minibus and immediately headed to Gaborone’s beautiful Riverwalk Mall to buy a new shirt in lieu of a shower. I’d felt like a bag-lady as I drenched myself from the basin in the ladies room, using wet wipes under my arms.

I’d caught a minibus back to the train station.

“Come and sit here, sister,” said a 20-year-old girl in her red retail store uniform. She patted the empty space between herself and two co-workers. I squeezed in, quite aware that I was easily the size of two of these stunning, thin young Botswanan women. Probably twice the smell as well.

Botswana had amazed me with its obvious wealth and modern infrastructure. My past experience in Botswana would match tomorrow’s—just long hot bus journeys through empty desert-like landscapes.

In Johannesburg, I’d been escorted to the minibus by a Trans-Lux porter. I’d never taken a Trans-Lux bus in my life, but like an escort who had found me in Bloemfontein and a security guard in Johannesburg’s Park Station, everyone seemed anxious to help me avoid being a victim of crime. Certainly, crime is a reality in South Africa, but my experience there consisted of meeting only people keen to help me not learn about it firsthand.

And now—sitting in Lusaka’s Subway (the sandwich shop, not the underground)—I still question my decision to board the 4 p.m. bus for the 30-hour journey to Dar Es Salaam. Maybe I’m getting too old for this. Maybe I’ve lost weight and padding on the bottom. Maybe I’ve just lost interest in discomfort. But what I’ve always said still holds true—if you want to meet locals, get on the bus.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

while a plane ride might offer comfort - it seems as if the experiences are richer when one takes the bus. It is quite the car culture here in ABQ, NM and at times I miss the commaraderie of using mass transit. Although I do consider it quite a feat to take my special ed class on not one but 2 buses to the state fair! & everyone had a great time.
Ya never know who ya might meet! bon voyage!