My first mistake was deciding not to leave at the crack of dawn because I wanted one more morning run with my new friend Siley. Casually ate breakfast (bread and coffee) with the family before grabbing my things and heading to the road. My sister accompanied me to the road, then ran off to buy hair extensions. I sat on the fat log under the Acacia tree, the one that marks the entrance to the path to my house. I look down the road towards the ‘main’ part of the village (the building that houses a tailor shop, a room with a computer and some broken equipment (haven’t quite figured out the point of that room yet), and a boutique. I decided to go walk over and greet one of the tailors I haven’t seen in a while, so I left my stuff on the side of the road and walked over to greet people. One car came, but I didn’t want a car, I wanted a bus. So I waited, casually walking back to my stuff. People passed, greeting as they did. Some sat and talked before heading off to other duties. One man, Samba, Stayed because he was waiting as well. A second car came. He suggested I take it, because of the uncertainty of any busses left today. Ok. He got off at the next stop.
I switched cars in Galoya in the middle of a heated dispute about whether or not the car that I had just switched into was actually going to move. It hadn’t moved since very early this morning and the people in it had been waiting there since then. The apprantees argued with everyone, the people from my other car filed in while the driver himself, a short Wolof man with a slightly larger top lip and of indiscriminate age looked around passively. The car had 4 rows of seats, the middle of which can be popped up to walk through the ‘aisle’ to the seats further back. The two back doors open to very small bench seats along both sides of the vehicle, and the apprantees hang out the back, doors swinging ajar, hinges bumping at every pothole. Car full, we began to move… very slowly. The time passed but the villages didn’t. There was something wrong with the car, but it was only being discussed in Wolof by the driver and his apprantees. Hours went by as we moved at a crawl, and yet no other cars passed us. The road was empty both in front and behind us. The driver, wearing a dingy black and grey ball cap that matched the rest of his outfit, faded by the African sun, kept sticking his head out of the window to look down towards the front left tire. He did this so often, and for so long, it was as if he felt that the tire would fall off if he did not watch it. Every time he looked out the window, the car slowed even more. Potholes meant slowing to what felt like a stop. I put in my headphones, I played solitaire on my phone, I read my book, I chatted with the people around me, but still the trees crawled by. There were a few times we stopped other cars going the opposite ways to ask them for something, maybe oil, maybe a part, maybe gas? But they always said no and we continued to crawl along. I looked around in the car. There were two vocal men who had been in this car since the morning in Galoya, but everyone else in the car was quiet. No one was upset. No one was urging the driver to please drive faster. No one was even complaining, except the two men under their breath occasionally. Why don’t we say we’re getting off and wait for another car? Because we had all given our money to the apprantee. We were all locked in this turtle shell until it finally stopped; whether at our destination or by falling apart. It was not expensive, none of us had really paid that much for the trip, but no one likes to waste money. It would be money lost, and that’s unacceptable. Also, Senegalese people are the most patient people I have ever witnessed. They will wait for a car for hours without complaining. They will wait at the post office for an entire day and be told to come back the next day (sometimes multiple days!) without confronting the authority figure. There they sit, all behind me in the car, looking on with complacency. I envy them. I had planned this day for travel so I actually had no place to be by any certain time, but still I fretted impatiently. The driver kept looking out the window. That darned tire. Making sure he watched it so it wouldn’t fall off.
Finally a bus passed us and the driver hailed it to stop. It pulled over in front of us and the negotiations began. All 4 of the bus apprantees got out, our two met them, our car emptied of people relieved for another option other than the TurboSlow 2000 we had been in. We were counted based on our destinations as we filed inside, pulling up the middle seats to walk down the ‘aisle’ of the bus until we had filled it entirely. Money changed hands and we were on our way, moving light years faster this time. Stop in Aere Lao meant breakfast for all those traveling since early morning. A longer stop. The doorways were flooded by people selling frozen milk treats, hibiscus popsicles in plastic bags, peanuts, bananas, and hard-boiled eggs. This creates chaos as people try desperately to file past them exiting the vehicle to buy meat sandwiches outside or phone credit from the boutiques. The sellers are insistent, “Cosam nani, cosam nani, cosam nani,” (sweet cultured milk is here, milk is here, milk is here,” “Bochonde bochonde bochonde!” (Eggs, eggs, eggs,) Extending the food into the faces of those furthest forwards. Money gets passed forward person by person, the good then get passed back hand over hand.
Everybody satisfied and back on the bus, he honks one more time in case of stragglers, then we are off again. The road just before Ndioum (my destination of the day) is being fixed, Alhamdullilah! It was a labyrinth of holes the size of cows and the edges had been worn away to slivers of road that at some points barely supported the width of one wheel, while the other side would be hanging off a steep embankment. Now there are careening diverts where the work is being done, but I hope that, within my service, the road will have been completed in this section.
Finally we pull into Ndioum. The bus pulls off the road, threatening to tip over as it does so. I get off and don’t look back, walking to my friend’s barber shop, not in the mood right now to joke with the banana ladies sitting on the side of the road. Eyes glazed over, I enter his shop and collapse on the mat on the floor. Another successful voyage.