Senegal – Riding on the Buses From Hell – Part Three

They never complain. West African passengers seem to be the world’s most adaptable people. Whatever you throw at them, they silently accept. It makes you wonder; are they so spiritually evolved that they never get angry – or have they been beat down so hard, that they have lost hope in even trying to improve their situation. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

After a day’s rest in Kayes near the Senegalese border, Eduardo and I bought our tickets to Senegal from Bani, the best bus line in Mali. It was our last long stretch, 900 km, and 16 hours. But it was the last one, and we would be able to handle it. We were quite sure.

The rain was pouring down as we waited at the bus terminal with the other passengers. A South American soap opera dubbed into French was playing on a small TV under the tin roof, until fierce thunder and lightening made them pack away the TV. Of course the bus was delayed, so we sat in total darkness in the rain, waiting an hour, then two, then three. Four hours later, the Bani bus rolled in, looking like a luxurious, dry haven .

By now we should have known better. With no air-conditioning, and sealed shut windows, the only ventilation came through the open skylight. But as we were supposed to arrive in Dakar by mid-morning before the sweltering heat set in, we settled in to sleep. We would be fine.

An hour later we passed the Malian border, but then the bus stopped.

Dumbfounded we watched as the crew unloaded a couple of mattresses, rolled them out outside the customs hut, and laid down to sleep. Were they just taking a nap? Did they just need to rest for a while? But no. They closed the door of the bus, and all the passengers went to sleep.

I couldn’t breathe. We were in the middle of nowhere, in a steamy bus without ventilation, and they just expected us to stay there and suffocate? I opened the door of the bus. I’d rather let the malarial mosquitoes in than die of heatstroke.

Someone explained that the Senegalese customs was closed for the night and wouldn’t open until the next morning. There was nothing they could do.

At sunrise I got up to use the “bathroom”, an open field behind the customs hut. The crew was still sleeping. An hour later, they lazily got up, but were in no rush to move. Instead, they sat around drinking tea, smoking, chatting. Other cars and buses passed the customs, but we were still there, waiting.

Finally Eduardo had enough. He grabbed a Nigerian guy, Dozie, and went to complain. But there was no use. All they received were lies about having to wait for the head of customs to arrive. But shortly after, a tattered bus rolled in, and the passengers boarded our bus. Money apparently doesn’t only make the world go round, it also make buses go.

After thirteen hours stuck in No Man’s Land, we continued at snail’s pace. Every five minutes we stopped to pick up passengers, or to pay bribes to the local customs check. Everyone, except Eduardo and I, had to pay extra to cover the bribes, because apparently they thought we might be CIA agents and could get them in trouble.

Instead of arriving at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, we arrived at 3 a.m. the next day, hoarse from screaming at and threatening the bus crew.

But the West African passengers never complained.



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