On the Road, as it were

Part two of the Women’s Conference Adventure.

Somewhere about the time that E—- and the other woman left, the bus did in fact arrive. This may have been about 11:30; I’m not sure. Recall that this was supposed to be the 10 hours bus. There were a number of people and a significant amount of luggage already on the bus, and even more people huddled around the door of the bus having Tonga discussions with various organizer-ladies, but no one seemed in any hurry to actually get on the bus, so Natasha and I didn’t either, and just hung out next to the church and watched. I made vague attempts to keep track of my phone, which Grama was now carrying around.

(I have become incredibly blasé about my belongings here. I’ll give my backpack to someone and not even pay attention to be sure that it gets put under the bus or in the boot of the vehicle or on top of the minibus. Part of this is that I don’t put anything of real value in that backpack, but most of it is just the fact that my belongings always manage to travel with me. (Well, aside from the six tomatoes I accidentally left on the minibus yesterday, but that was a different matter.) It eventually occurred to me that quite aside from the shame one would face for losing a mukuwa‘s belongings, no one will use your minibus if you have a reputation for losing things. This matter of reputation extends so far that people will give the minibus driver or conductor money on their way out of Macha in the morning, and the minibus will deliver goods purchased in town on the return trip in the afternoon.)

Lisa figured out that what was going on was a debate about whether there was room on the bus for the people who had not purchased their seats in advance, and for how many of them, and which ones. We stood about for a while longer. I knit. Presently we were told to get on the minibus, which we did, so as to sit and wait more conveniently. I think we were waiting for latecomers, though I am not entirely sure.

(It’s frequently unclear what one is waiting for here. Alison shared a story with me: one time her host family was sitting around and waiting after church, and she asked them what they were waiting for, and none of them knew. In fact, it became clear that they were not actually waiting for anything at all — but this did not stop them from spending several hours doing so.)

While we were waiting, we realized that no one had paid for our (Lisa’s and Natasha’s and mine) food at this conference, so we did that. I knit some more and wondered what budget category food for a conference belongs in. Grama’s bag (with my phone resting on top) made it inside the vehicle, so I figured that that was all right.

Grama and the woman with the clipboard (whose name I never did catch) began discussing the 13 hours bus, which at this point appeared to have only four people on it. It was agreed that running an entire bus for only four people was an unnecessary expense. I began to wonder if we were going to wait another two or three hours for the 13 hours people, and to dubiously consider my supply of snacks, which was not in the least adequate for being lunch. After some texting and more phone calls, Grama returned my phone (I checked my balance, which was only lower by 1,000 kwacha, the cost of an egg, despite that flurry of phone activity), and presently the bus departed.

Only to stop again 300 meters away to pick up the pastor’s wife, wiping damp hands on her chitenge. She had gone home to finish up some housework. We moved again, only to stop while one woman ran over to her house to get a pillow and a scarf. While we were waiting, Grama and the woman sitting next to/underneath a rather large suitcase investigated options for keeping the suitcase from crashing into the unfortunate woman. I offered my ever-present hank of rope (“You’ll want it, if you haven’t got it!”), but there wasn’t really anything to tie the rope to.

We stopped again at the market and tied the suitcase to the doorframe. Possibly there was some other purpose to that stop, but I didn’t figure out or don’t remember what it was. We may have acquired another passenger.

We bounced our way out of what I consider “Macha proper,” stopping for a long while by the shops by the radio station to pick up another woman. I knit some more. The woman next to me purchased a handful of “ma bubble,” bubblegum, and gave me a piece. I’m still completely unable to blow gum bubbles, just like the last time I tried.

As we pulled away from the radio station, I checked my phone: it was just after 13 hours. We stopped again at the T with the dust road and acquired another woman and a young man.

At Miyobe, the turnoff to the tarmac road, we picked up another woman and some parcels, rendering the minibus overloaded, even for Zambia. About 500 meters later we stopped, dropped off that woman, the parcels, the young man, and the woman we’d picked up at the radio station, along with strict instructions in Tonga, something about 18 hours. I never did figure out what the deal was with that last woman.

Did I mention the singing? It’s not at all unusual, here in Zambia, to be passed by a vehicle, usually a canter truck, with the back crammed full of people, all singing at the top of their lungs. It’s a unique auditory experience that I have often enjoyed from the sidewalk, but this was the first time I’ve been inside the vehicle. Someone, probably Grama, started the singing shortly after the radio station, and most of us sang the whole way to Choma. I even led a song: Ambani Jesu (Talk about Jesus), only that backfired a little because, it turned out, most of the bus didn’t know it, so I really did have to lead it, and I’m not actually quick enough on my feet in Tonga to sing leader role for stanza after stanza after stanza. It’s a song that could hypothetically be led in English just as well, only the bit of music for that part of the song lends itself much better to Tonga.

It’s a good thing we were singing, because bubble gum is not food, and by the time we reached Mbabala, I was beginning to think longingly of lunch, even with the distraction of music. Only we didn’t stop at Mbabala, just slowed down a little and cruised right on through. I resigned myself to no lunch until goodness-knows-when, and settled in to enjoy the singing. (I wrote down the Tonga words for “We Are Marching in the Light of God,” which I’ll share with you after I double-check spellings and meanings.)

It was 2:15 by the time we rolled to a stop in the middle of Choma. We were stopping for half an hour so people could shop. Of course, I thought, a trip to town is a luxury. They want to make the most of it. And Thank goodness; I can get some lunch.

I led Lisa into the maze of stalls that is Choma market, in pursuit of bush bananas and raw groundnuts. That accomplished with time to spare, we went to Spar, and I dealt with my grocery store shopping list. While there, Kathy called to say that her bus was leaving Monze, an hour and a half away, and could we pick up some food at Spar? We did, and returned to the bus at 2:44. As I expected, it was mostly empty and not remotely ready to leave, so I acquired tomatoes and green onions from one of the ladies on the street, the better to flesh out our food supplies. After that, I could settle down to a belated semi-lunch of bananas and groundnuts, and then to the business of shelling groundnuts for later roasting.

Fourty-five minutes or an hour later, when the bus actually left, my 1l jar was 1/4 full of groundnuts. We reached the school without incident, and Grama told us to stay on the bus, and that we’d be dropped off at the guesthouse on the driver’s way back into town. We tried to call the woman in charge of the guesthouse, but she wasn’t answering her phone.

When we reached the guesthouse sometime after four, Kathy was there ahead of us, sitting on the porch waiting for the keys, which arrived not too long after. But that was, without a doubt, the longest trip from Macha to Choma that I have ever taken.



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4 responses to “On the Road, as it were

  1. Kenner

    Good for you, Sam Gamgee!
    The singing buses sound much more enjoyable than the rolling Boom Boxes we hear on the streets of Philly.
    And it’s good to hear from you again.

    • Well, somebody gave me that rope to go to college with, and it seemed a good idea to bring it to Zambia . . .

      The singing buses are very nice.

      I’ve been meaning to post for some time now. And I really did think I’d posted last week.

  2. Esther

    I’m afraid I would not last patiently waiting and especially waiting for lunch for hours.

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