Sunday, July 5, 2009

Back on the bus ad to Addis

Again we rose at 4:30 a.m. to get to the bus station in Nekemt by 5:00. The vice president of the Synod was kind enough to get our tickets yesterday and arrange for a driver to pick us and my suit cases up at the guest house. He also had a boy sit on a three-person seat close to the front so we wouldn’t have to fight for seats as everyone squeezed into the tiny bus door at the same time.

A mother with her toddler was sitting just in front of us while her husband brought sacks and boxes and baskets full of – what? Stuff to sell in Addis? Food to give their urban relatives? Finally, the wife brought on board a live rooster and stuffed it under the seat right at Sosi’s feet. Sosi is no stranger to live stock. Chickens strut in the compound of her house the day before a big holiday meal is cooked and even wander into the house before it’s shooed outside. But this rooster was sitting on her new shoes and she didn’t like it. She politely asked the woman to move the rooster. “It will soon fall asleep and won’t bother you,” the woman answered curtly.

Everyone knows that live animals are no longer allowed on passenger buses as they were 40 years ago when I always traveled with as many animals as there were humans. But no one said anything to the woman or her husband. The bus ride was not smooth and at every bump in the road, the rooster flapped its wings, crowed and tried to get closer to Sosi. Each time, Sosi emitted a girlish scream and tried to pull her feet closer in but it wasn’t possible with the seats so close together. Beth and I laughed. Then others around us laughed, too. But the rooster and Sosi got louder each time until the bus driver’s assistant asked whose rooster it was. We all three pointed to the woman in front of us. He told her husband he had to put the rooster off the bus. The woman was irate but the driver stopped while the husband and rooster left the bus for a minute. He returned sans rooster, the wife scowled at him and said something rude to Sosi which she wouldn’t translate for me but Beth laughed.

We proceeded with only the normal bus break downs the rest of the journey. The first came only 30 minutes after the rooster episode. The bus stopped and smoke was coming from under the hood. Radiator needs water, I thought. Driver and assistant got out, opened the hood and stared. Half of the male passengers got out, stood near the hood and stared. The other half of the males disembarked to “use the facilities,” i.e. trees and bushes. The women waited. I was just about to take our water bottles out to the driver and tell him to pour it in the radiator when he suddenly got the same idea himself and solved the problem. That was good timing because mechanical advice from a woman would not have been welcome.

Not an hour later, the bus slowly glided to the side of the road and gently stopped – dead – completely silent. We knew something was seriously wrong because drivers never, ever turn off their engines (for fear they won’t start up again). No one moved. We were in the middle of nowhere. Terraced hills and valleys stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions, newly planted with corn. There were no buildings in sight, no people, not even a cow grazing. No children running to the bus selling oranges or gum. Silence and stillness all around. The driver got out, crossed to the other side of the road and sat down, staring out at nothing. We all got off the bus this time, even the women, except for Sosi who took this opportunity to stretch out and nap. Lots of grumbling but no one giving a clue as to why we stopped here. Beth asked around and told me someone thought we were out of gas. Out of gas!!! In the middle of nowhere!!! We hadn’t passed a town or even a house in a very long time, and even if we had, there wouldn’t have been any gas there. Rarely, another vehicle came along the road but none stopped to see what was wrong and no one tried to flag them down. I knew we were doomed. It was hopeless. There was no way to get gas out here. Where would we sleep, what would we eat and how would we ever get back to Addis? Sosi continued her nap while Beth and I formulated various methods of torturing the driver who had gotten us into this mess… (to be continued)