We've all had our fair share of transport that just doesn't work out. A late bus, train, taxi or flight can hold you back and make you stressed. The problem with transportation in Burkina Faso, though, is that it's not really on-time or late, it is just there when it is and leaves when it does. There are guestimations as to when the bus, for example, might leave or arrive. There is much chin-rubbing and theories are hatched based on what exactly happened the last time the bus ran, but exactly what happened last time is also a point of conversation. In any case, it's not worth getting your hopes up. One day, however, the bus did leave. My girlfriend, Molly, and I jumped aboard for a ride from Ouagadougou to Nouna. The front of the bus, I swear, read "To Hell & Back."
"Why is the back of the bus sagging," Molly asked a fella sitting next to us. "It fell off last week. They just welded it back on," the gentlemen explained matter-of-factly. In such places as Burkina Faso, backs of buses do just fall off. You could see the molded, fused metal around the back, where three or four rows of seats sagged almost to the ground, now inclined for resting.
We threw our backpacks to two workers roping chicken crates, a live goat, bundled fabric, bicycles, plastic wares, bottles, and plastic bags on top of the bus. We had to pay fifty extra cents to have our stuff mounted on the top. The workers would ride on top of the bus the whole way, which can take about 6-8 hours, depending on how many times the bus breaks down (it always does), how many breaks the driver takes (he may want to nap under a tree for two hours) and how many trees had fallen into the road (these were big Boabab-esque ones). So, there is the not-so-stable-looking-and-back-fell-off bus, with heaps of luggage and all manner of goods sort-of strapped on top with the workers riding on top of the luggage. This would be high comedy back home. In Burkina, it just is.
We sat in the front, behind the driver, needless to say, after we boarded. "Why does the driver look 14?" I asked Molly. "He is probably substituting driving for his older brother," she retorted.
Driving like he was on open water with his rich dad's jet ski, the driver swerved around trees, through bushes and back onto the road three or four times. It didn't take one hour before the bus broke down, sputtering to a stop, not restarting. Working on the engine, one man nearly cut his thumb off. It was bleeding radically. I bandaged it up with my first aid kit and he couldn't thank me enough. With a little rope and my handy Leatherman, were back on the road in about thirty minutes. "Amazing how they always do that, fix anything with nothing," I said as they gave me back my Supertool.
The merchandise stacked on top was about equal to the height of the bus and cut down several tree limps as we raced under them. Why pay those expensive tree-cutting services when you've got this "natural method?" It's amazing that the two guys on top didn't lose their heads or thorax. The teenage driver was having the time of his life, a huge smile running across his face. Molly starred stiffly out the window, holding on to the window's ledge and my kneecap as her Oh Shit! Handle, which still has the scars from her fingernails. "Honey, if we wreck it's better to be chill and loose. If you're stiff, it hurts more." She was not amused in the slightest. Little did I know how right I was.
The dust flew in the broken window and un-shut door. None of the roads save one mile outside the city was paved. In less than two hours, we both looked like characters from Scooby-Do, the whites of our eyes glowing, blinking, the rest of us covered in brown dust. When we blinked, I swore I could here the F-note key of some distant cartoonish piano. At any rate, we blinked and looked forward, wondering why the driver wafted from one edge of the road to the other. We were not one hour from home when he went just a smidgen too far.
That silly boy. The teenage Mario Andretti went off the road, through several bushes. Windshield glass flew on the floor and the driver's hands went into the air. I jumped to the floor and held Molly's head down. It seemed we skidded for minutes on end. We came to a stop, just before wrapping the bus around the stump of a dead tree. The driver was in shock. He just sat there, wide-eyed. I looked down. I had blood and glass in my leg. Molly had some shards in her hair, but was unscathed. Most everyone was A-Ok, except the driver. We all calmly got off the bus and the driver sat there, soaked a bit in his own blood. No one seemed to help him. They eventually did and he seemed fine though gory.
Another small white van-bus came by, stopped and somehow picked us all up. I checked the back end for any signs of soldering and finding none, we boarded. We stood and sat on each other, several people standing on the rear bumper, on top, on the sides, making our way back to Nouna. We were sweaty and dirty and bloody and adrenaline soaked. We got back to town and told our friends. It must have been a good ole joke for them because they laughed out loud, in our faces. I wrote it off as a cultural difference rather than they laughing at our misfortune, which was sort of funny in hindsight. We showered two or three times, tweezed the glass from my leg and went to sleep for ten hours after a meal of scrambled eggs. We vowed never to take public transport again in Burkina, especially with a boy chauffer driving a soldered bus.