I think we set some kind of record. 23 people riding in a little truck the size of a small Nissan. 3 on top of the cab, 7 inside the cab (counting the driver) and the rest in the back. 3 men standing, triangularing the tail. Each one holding the other up. Just a normal ride from Podor to Taredji.
Transportation here is never boring–the people, the baggage, the possibility for disaster. I am amazed by how absolutely mold-able skin and bone can be. You think you can’t fit between those two women. WRONG. You can.
The garage in big cities is sometimes insane. As soon as you get out of a taxi, people are surrounding you and asking you in every language where you want to go. Foy dem? To pad-daa? Vous voulez aller ou? After you announce where you are heading, each person tries to lead you to a car. They gather around, 10 wolof men, as you discuss prices and baggage, each one hoping for a cut of the money since they helped you find your way. Then you get in the sept-place, Ndiaga Ndiaye, mini-van, or bus. Typically its fastest and easiest to get a sept-place. People fight to stay out of the last row since its raised seats over the back tires forces most passengers to choose between slouching or sitting straight with a crooked neck. And then you are off, hoping against all the odds that your driver is not a maniac and depending on Allah and a marabout’s prayers to keep the car from head-on colliding with the approaching car. Sometimes you get a nice driver who speaks Pulaar and drives like his life is precious. Sometimes.
Sometimes you get a driver who insists on driving you to St. Louis from Thies (a four hour trip..but possibly 5 in his car) even when he has no working brakes. Like yesterday afternoon. Luckily the woman in front of us kept yelling at him about the absolute ludicracy of the situation. He refused to stop, but as we drove past the police station, we got him to stop and the woman marched in to demand help. The police insisted that the driver take us back to the garage and reimburse us or find a new car. Paul and I got a reimbursement, it was getting late and driving at night is a huge no-no. The other 5 wanted to carry on; so they loaded into a new sept-place with two new passengers to replace Paul and I. As we were leaving, I looked back to see the front passenger laughing wildly. The new car would not start. Pop open the hood.
Today, we tried again. This time to take a car all the way to Ndioum. Engine cut out about an hour and a half outside of Thies. Mechanics replaced a part, but still nothing. Something wrong with the engine. We wait for three hours by the side of the road for the new car. We were almost to Ndioum when the driver went into a pothole too fast and blew the front right tire.
So far, Paul has been in three sept-places that have broken down. I have been in two cars with flat tires. Once I sat in a Ndiaga Ndiaye whose seat moved independently of the adjacent wall. On the way to Thies, I got peed on by the sheep strapped to the roof, liquid seeping through the roof onto my head, which was, of course, pressed tightly up against the roof of the dreaded back row. Animal rights in Senegal: nonexistent. Sheep ride up top often, sometimes for several hours and many of those in the blazing sun. Paul and I transported five chickens to Ndioum for Thanksgiving. Four in a box, one rooster in hand. The four rode up top, and the rooster got a lucky seat inside the van.
In the car, I have met both terrible and amazing people. One trip, I yelled at a man in angry Pulaar that if he touched that woman’s leg one more time I would hit him. I raised my hand to prove it. I should have told him I would hit him until he pooped–a popular one here–mi fiiyat maa haa huwa. But then, sometimes you meet amazing people who just want to talk and joke. Evan once had a man yell at the boy who takes bus fares that Evan should not have to pay the pass since he was a volunteer and working to improve the country. Senegal’s “universal baby-sitter rule” has left me sitting happily with someone else’s child in my lap for trips. I have convinced people that in America women can have two husbands if they want. I have met school directors who tell me about Schistosomiasis issues at the schools. Sometimes transportation is a bit dangerous, but for the most part, I enjoy it very much.