Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Bad day for a bus ride

Here we've arrived off Babu Transport after shopping in Kondoa. Seems like they have concerns about the front tire.

Sometimes though the signs are there and I'm not paying attention.

Occasionally we would run low on cash. There's no international ATM in Kondoa, so we'd make the trip to Babati 3 hours and 80km away.

The bus is cheap, relatively speaking, 6,000 TS (about $3.C), runs once a day to Arusha and is scheduled to pass by our driveway at  5:30am.

That morning the bus never came. Babu Transport, our usual ride to Kondoa, happily carried us up the hill to Kolo where an eager fellow sold us tickets to Babati on the next bus. It arrived within minutes and away we went standing up front, swaying and holding on.
Within an hour we were stopped by some undetermined mechanical problem. The bus jockeys were back and forth from the tool box and two hours later had leaf springs unassembled under the bus and were then waiting themselves. This was a clear message to start walking.

It was pleasant walking, a few flowers on trees brightening the dry leafless landscape. An hour later we stopped at what appeared to be a bus stop. A group of local women and children were entertained to see us. When a bus roared past I waved it down.

This bus was already full. On the roof a large overstuffed chair, baggage/luggage and piled sacks with two or three men sitting on top. In order to get on we had to wedge ourselves onto the steps. We carried on for a few minutes when it stopped to pick up more passengers!
I was pushed and shoved further into the bus so more folks could get in. I had my head up against the ceiling. Elke, behind me, perched on the edges of a sack of rice. Both of us in full contact with the rest of the standees front and back.
 Unfortunately this is quite typical. Limited service, low wages and a large population mean the bus folks will take as many as they can to make the extra cash.

I'm watching as the bus slows down and the two bus jockeys standing in the doorway are thrown out as we lurch left. The bus tips over and slides sideways across the road. People are screaming, I'm thinking "is this my time?" and "no apparently not."  I search around for Elke who is now beneath me.

 I've braced myself against the wall maintaining a somewhat upright position. Folks are scrambling up and out the windows, crawling out through the doorway and the back window/exit. Elke has the presence of mind to grab our bags, I pass them up with her as she is pulled through the side windows and jumps down.

My turn, except I've lost my shoe as someone squeezed past my foot. I'm standing in kerosene, very slippery on a metal surface. I grab my shoe off the ground beneath the bus. I'm one of the last out. Helpful hands haul me up and over the edge, dropped into the arms of a fellow outside. Women are crying, yelling into their phones, limping and sitting alone shock and dismay on their faces. A group of men push the bus up and pull out the two who fell. People are running towards us from all directions.

Someone asks if we are ok? as we sit beside a young woman, Elke reassuring her, checking out her possibly injured hand. Other than shock we seem fine. There is not much we can do here, don't speak the language and folks are assisting where needed. Two motorcycles take some injured fellows away held in place by another sitting behind.

We start walking, stopping frequently to inform folks to the best of our ability what happened. I'm still amazed I've survived. The walking helps to ground me. Elke calls our friend in Babati who arranges a cab and after walking another hour we are picked up.
This experience is truly unsettling. We talk about the safety and security of life back in the developed world, how complacent and trusting we became. How risk makes things interesting and why we would choose to even get on a bus that full.

Back at camp a week or so later we hear the sounds of singing as a vehicle comes down the hill, then a crash and silence. We rush over to the overlook on the road where we see a large truck on it's side, people everywhere. 19 die returning from a wedding.

Here it is "the will of God" Certainly there is sadness and mourning but it seems accepted that these things happen. No blame and it seems no responsibility either. Is this the price, the risk I take to be here?

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