When we arrived at the bus Andrew found had the best reputation, we were told we could not buy tickets, therefore could not take the bus. We were led, yet again, through a maze of buses to another couple going to our same destination. Andrew didn’t recognize the first bus and demanded another company he read had a decent reputation. We haggled over the price, put our bags underneath, and took our seats. Maybe ten minutes later, we were pulling out of the station. Not fifteen minutes after that, we stopped at another station and parked for an hour, waiting for the bus to fill up before we could make the journey down to southern Tanzania.
It was uncomfortable. Although this bus at least stopped for multiple bathroom breaks, which cannot be said for the bus we took from Arusha to Dar. By bathroom breaks, I mean the bus pulls over to the side of the road, and everyone gets out and drops trow next to the road. Sometimes women go to one side of the road, and men to the other, but not always. I thought I had achieved something when I got comfortable stripping down in the Korean bath houses and having a Korean ajjumma (older woman) scrub me down. But squatting down on the side of the road in plain sight of not only your fellow bus companions, but any bus passing by is a whole new level.
“It’s better to go than not to go… It’s better to go than not to go…” I chanted in my head hoping that having Andrew standing a couple feet in front of me at least prevented any curious onlookers from seeing my hoo-ha.
These buses are unlike anything I have ever ridden before. Instead of a pair of seats on each side of the aisle, one side has two skinny seats, while the other side offers a row of three skinny seats. I think a typical bus seats 35-40 passengers, these buses seat 60-70. There is little legroom, which means there is none for Andrew, and don’t even think of reclining. Also, you have to really pay attention to where you sit, otherwise you might not have any access to open or close the window. And that, my friends, is something you want control over.
We seemed to be making good time, due to the crazy speed our driver was going, and we were about two hours away from our stop, when there was a loud pop and the bus started to swerve back and forth on the road. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, as I’ve become quite accustomed to the speed and the jerky nature of many drivers. But the swaying only intensified and I instinctively grabbed onto Andrew, afraid the bus was going to go on its side. I remember being scared, simultaneous to “Yep, I thought this was going to happen at some point on this trip” feeling. Having never experienced a serious crash before, I was almost in wonder, wondering how it was going to play out.
Suddenly, we were off the road and tall grass was flying against the window I was sitting next to. I looked at the window, wondering if I had left it open or had recently closed it, and what would be best upon impact. If it’s open, am I going to fall out of it? If it’s closed, should I open it more? These thoughts flew through my head and it suddenly seemed as though we weren’t going to go on one side, but I wondered how long we would continue to speed off the road.
And then it all stopped. Water sloshed up around the bus. The windshield shattered. And it was over. The men behind me sprang out of the bus, jumping out one of the windows. Somehow Andrew was caught halfway on the seat in front of us and halfway in the aisle. I was confused and wondered if I would even fit if I tried to jump out of the window the men had easily slid through. They were standing on ground, even though water surrounded the bus. I stood up and Andrew and I were quickly demanding if one another were ok. Babies were crying and everyone on the bus was half dazed and half panicked about getting off.
I stood up with my backpack that was in my lap and told Andrew we had to get off the bus. He had lost his i-phone and was searching the floor of the bus for it, a bit oblivious of the fact that we might need to hurry. I loosened our plastic bag of Masai shukas from the shelf above and again, upon smelling gas, again insisted we needed to get off the bus immediately. Finally, it sunk in and he grabbed his bag and turned to squeeze past others searching for their own belongings. Luckily I spotted his phone on the floor our way out of the bus, as I stood up, I was face to face with a young man who had clearly been sitting near the windshield as his face was covered in blood. I felt so clumsy trying to maneuver past him, wondering what it was that he felt necessary to go back for with his face so mangled.
Once off of the bus, I held a man’s bag while he slipped his shoes off to walk through the water to get to dry land. Andrew yelled at me, wanting me to get away from the bus. It was so surreal, everyone going in different directions and locals from the village we had just passed walking down to help by way of the trail of smashed grass our bus had left in its wake. I took my flip-flops off after nearly losing one in the muddy water the back end of the bus rested in. Andrew had given me both of our daypacks and the bag of shukas while he tried to get our bigger backpacks out from under the bus. He ordered me to go up to the road and take pictures in case we needed them for insurance purposes. Smart. It would have been smarter had I stayed below to take pictures of the bus in water though…
With two backpacks full of computers and cameras, I sank up to my thighs in water and gratefully handed over our things and accepted a hand to help pull me out. One of the women also walking away from the bus slowed down to walk with me. I think she thought I was hurt, but I was mostly having a hard time climbing up to the road in my flip-flops as my feet were covered in mud. We got up to the road and an older man took one of the bags from me and they both began walking me towards the awaiting bus that had stopped.
“Hospital.” My new friend declared with worry all over her face.
“No, no… I’m ok. It’s ok. You go!” I tried to tell her, repeating the Swahili word for “fine” over and over again as she looked me over with concern. I put down my bags and thanked the older man for helping. Then pointed to Andrew who was by the bus and tried to communicate that I couldn’t leave him.
Andrew gave up trying to retrieve our backpacks momentarily and came up to meet me on the road. Both of our legs had raised bumps from hitting the seats in front of ours, but one of his legs was oozing blood and I immediately started ripping my bag apart for wet wipes and band-aids, suggesting we go to the hospital immediately. Not having any band-aids big enough, I unwrapped a panty-liner and band-aided it to his leg. He wasn’t nearly as impressed with my handiwork as I was. His leg continued to bleed, and wondering if he needed stitches, I suggested again we go to the hospital. I envisioned us leaving our backpacks behind and wearing Masai shukas for the next several days. He said he was fine and that wasn’t leaving without our bags.
We asked around for a phone to try to call our guesthouse to see if they had any suggestions on what to do about our bags and/or how we should go about getting there. One man, who didn’t speak English, nodded and told me to follow him. I left Andrew with all of our bags on the side of the road and thought we weren’t going far. Two hundred meters later, I stopped the man and when I turned around, I could see Andrew beginning to walk towards us. Later, Andrew told me that after our bus crashed, we made it out ok, he wasn’t going to let me be led somewhere without him. I assured him the man wasn’t trying to harm me – at. all. But understanding his thought process completely. After all, it’s why I stopped and told the man I needed to wait for my ‘husband.’
We gave some money to a younger boy who ran back into their town to get credits to make a phone call. It didn’t work. We couldn’t get any reception. I handed out melted chocolates to all of the men who waited with me while Andrew tried again to get our bags. Fifteen minutes later, he waved me over and I could see him holding one of our bags. Another bus had pulled over and I began to run (how one would with two bruised up legs and three bags in her arms) towards the bus.
We squeezed in front, me sharing seats while Andrew sat on top of the boarded over engine with several others. I tried not to panic every time the bus sped up or hit a bump in the road. I tried not to remember the boy who was too close to the front of our crashed bus with the bloody face. I prayed to Jesus, Buddha, and even Ganesh that we wouldn’t crash twice in one day. I concentrated on not crying about all of the above.
Our bus didn’t ask for any fare, but instead dropped us off when it was turning off of the road we needed to continue on. Five minutes later a dala-dala pulled up and we were squeezed in, standing in the middle of the shared mini-van. Twenty minutes after that, we were dropped off at the door of our guesthouse. We showered. We cried. We drank a beer and then watched Project Runway pretending, at least for one hour that we didn’t just get the shit scared out of us.