Last Sunday morning after our wonderful safari (see David’s post below), we were ready to make the bus journey from Mbarara to Kampala. In a private car this trip would take about four hours, and in a bus it should take around 5 hours. After brunch, our hosts Liz and Eric (two other GHC fellows) walked David, Ally, and me to the Mbarara bus park where we could catch our bus. Liz assured us that Swift Safari would be the best bus company and that buses would leave for Kampala almost every hour as they filled.
Even before we entered the bus park, our group of five mzungus (white people) created quite a stir. Around 10 ‘conductors’ who were all trying to act as our guides to the correct bus, immediately surrounded us. They led us to an unmarked yellow and brown bus where the bus company’s manager came out to talk to us. A small crowd had formed around us, and the bus manager started giving a very grand sales pitch on how fast and cheap the bus would be. Liz was our main negotiator and insisted that we did not want to get on this bus we wanted Swift Safari. At this the manager promised up and down that there would be NO Swift Safari buses running that day, and his bus was the only one to Kampala (red flag #1). He also told us that he only charges 10,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $4) to Kampala, which we knew was about half the price of Swift Safari (red flag #2). There seemed to be a great deal of commotion around us, as if the bus as almost ready to leave and we would be taking the last three seats on the bus (red flag #3). We were all anxious to go and tired of the negotiations, so we paid the bus conductor before entering the bus (red flag #4).
When we got on the bus, I was surprised to see that it was almost empty. Only a few people were sitting inside and quietly listening to Kathy Troccoli’s “Carry Your Candle” being blasted from the bus’s sound system. This made me a little worried, I knew that we wouldn’t leave Mbarara until the bus was full, but I thought, this is the only bus to Kampala today so it’ll probably take about an hour to fill. We started our wait. For an hour David and I read our books and laughed at the cheesy music. Then we looked out the window and saw not one, but two Swift Safari buses pull up on the other side of the taxi park. Our bus was only half full, but the driver revved the engine and started pulling out of the parking spot. “Finally!” I thought. We got about half way across the bus park where we stopped and stood with the engine running – for another hour! During this second hour we realized that the window next to our seat didn’t open, and we started to get very hot. The bus driver would rev the engine, rock the bus back and forth, and honk the horn as if we were leaving. Out the window we watched the manager conduct all sorts of theatrics, such as having his workers run to the bus with bags pretending to be getting on.
At the end of this second hour we drove out of the bus park right behind a Swift Safari bus. “That was horrible,” I thought, “but at least we’re leaving at the same time as the Swift Safari buses.” We pulled out on to the main road, and then instead of picking up speed – we pulled over on the side of the road. And the theatrics started again. I watched in dismay as the bus driver pulled out a newspaper and started reading. Vendors of all sorts came on and off the bus selling everything from chewing gum and popcorn to shoes and toys. David and I started to wonder if we were going to need to sleep in Mbarara that night. We rotated between reading our books and fanning ourselves with them in an effort to cool down. David went outside the bus to stand with some other men, but the bus driver frantically honked and started to pull forward when David, the Mzungu, stepped outside. After David went outside the second time, we finally left for good, after a total of 4 hours of waiting in the bus.
I’m sure my readers, especially Americans, can understand the excruciating torment of being forced to wait in a standing bus for 3 hours longer than expected, and to have the travel time of your journey doubled. Unlike us, the Africans in the bus were not pacing, shifting uncomfortably, or drumming their fingers. Actually most of them weren’t even reading or chatting; they were just sitting patiently; sometimes buying snacks from venders or bouncing children on their knees. I think my life would be a lot more pleasant if I could mirror this attitude toward time and waiting, after all what does it really matter if I spend 4 hours of my otherwise fairly luxurious life, a bit hot and uncomfortable?