Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Sky’s a Fallin’

Riding on a bus is generally accepted as the best form of public transport available. They generally hold upwards of 70-80 people in Rows of 5 seats (3 on one side, 2 on the other).  Buses generally are more speedy and stop less than other means of travel.  Obviously, the sooner you get onto a bus means the better seat you will get (i.e. closer to the front) but also the longer you will wait for the bus to fill.  When traveling to populated areas, my gold standard is 2 hours or less as an acceptable expectation for waiting. 

You will find matatus as well, but because of their tendency to stop frequently (it is not uncommon for a matatu to pick someone up at location x, start, then be told to stop by a different passenger to be let off at location x + 7 meters), their increased susceptibility to break downs, as well as their propensity towards overstuffing.  Recommended 16 passengers quickly becomes 20 (generally best case scenario), which quickly becomes 25 with children who if they are under 5 don’t count, no matter how many there are.  This is not to mention the numerous chickens clucking at your feet, goats screaming in the back, or the amazing girth of Ugandan ladies taking “1” seat.

In some regions you will find sedans taking the roll of matatus, which to me is almost guaranteed to be less comfortable than matatus.  2 people in the front seat is the ideal situation, because in the back they will fit at least 5, without even breaking a sweat.  They accomplish this by having smaller passengers sit towards the front of the seat with their legs angled towards the door.  What results is the most impressive game of twister of unwilling participants you’d never want to see.

Riding on a bus does have its entertainments, as well.  On some lucky occasions, you will be given the viewing pleasure of old music videos or cheesy American movie with Luganda speakers dubbed over.  My favorite form of passing time is making bets on which piece of luggage is most likely to fall from the overhead shelves.  With every bump, bags/suitcases/tvs/water bottles/office equipment/sketchy black bags filled with God knows what is jostled and jumbled.  In a 5-6 hour bus ride, my over/under on items falling is 2.5.  On good days, upwards of 4 different items will fall, at which point the betting game clearly becomes a bus-wide event—everyone looks at the baggages, at the very least, directly above them.  Some objects are harmless, like pillows, which produces nothing more than a sleeping mother to shrug off her sleeping baby to put it back on the shelf.  Other objects, like the “luxury platter set” which I witnessed plummet in front of me just yesterday, can pack quite a punch.  This particular item fell 3 feet and landed corner first on the fake hair braids of the passenger in front of me.  Immediately there are a plethora of “sorry, sorry, sorry” statements being given by all passengers around.  They are in no way admitting it to be their fault; saying “sorry” just denotes that something bad has happened (used when hearing a death in the family, to tripping on a rock, to losing ones job). 

The most interesting part, perhaps because it shows a huge difference of social norms, is that neither the person hit nor anyone else on the bus actually tries to ascertain the owner of the object.  I’ve seen blood come from some of these items, and yet no one even attempts to assign blame to it.  Perhaps, at most, the driver is blamed for “overspeeding,” some clicks (which express disappointment or discontent with some kind of situation) are made, and people move on.  I still haven’t gotten to this level of Ugandaness—the few times I fell victim to a improperly packed object, the first thing I do is look around for the guilty face.  It is instinct!  And yet, here in Uganda, nobody seems to care.

I realize this is silly to try and find something meaningful out of falling suitcases on shoddy buses, but at times it does strike me as pretty cool that people here don’t need to know who the culprit is of their misfortune.  Perhaps this is because they don’t designate the action with anger for why it happened, but discomfort from the act only.  What a nice way to live life.