Kristen Everson's Blog
August 25, 2007 — Eh, Eh, Eh
I've been living in Rwanda for two months now and something strange has happened to my speech. I can't speak Kinyarwanda by any stretch of the imagination, I know a few greetings, thank-you, water, etc. but that's it. However, I have picked up some of the mannerisms in Rwandan speech and I'm sure once I return home my friends and family will have a great time making fun of me.
One of the things I now do is if I hear something is not good or not appropriate I say 'ah, ah, ah.' Another thing I do is a sort of click when something isn't good, sort of old ladyish, but not quite. The last thing I have picked up is using 'eh, eh, eh' when something is great.
I take comfort in the fact that Andrea has picked up these things just as quickly as I did. Who knew we were so impressionable.
August 17, 2007 — To Rwamagana and back...
I climbed into the land rover and wondered where exactly I was headed today. One of the benefits of working at TVR is I get sent to a lot of different places around Rwanda. However, usually when I do get assigned a story with another reporter I don't have a clue what the story is going to be about and sometimes where it is.
This was the case when I climbed into the land rover that was heading to somewhere in the Rwamagana district in Rwanda's Eastern province. An hour later we were following a bumpy dirt road marked with banana trees and flowers, to our story.
We were going to the official launch of a children's community in Rwamagana. While I've been here I've covered many launches, initiatives, projects etc, but none of them struck me the way this project did.
Our car stopped on top of a hill what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We overlooked a valley with a lake in the distance. It was beautiful.
The project is called The Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. It will create a community for orphans in Rwanda to grow up in and return to once they are adults.
There will be houses with woman acting as mothers that children will live with, to recreate the sense of family. The community will also have schools that will teach up to the high school level, a church and community centre. The idea is to create a community where kids can grow up, learn and feel like they are a part of society.
The project is based on the youth villages that were built in Israel after WWII. This village will house 500 children and 300 caretakers. The children will come from other orphanges throughout Rwanda. They will be selected privately by the orphanges they are coming from.
The caretakers are going to be found through NGOs working with mothers and widows from the genocide.
They hope to start accepting children in the fall of 2008.
The village is being funded by Anne Hayman through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. So far she has given $8 million US to the project.
The whole community surrounding the piece of land for the project came out to the launch. Hundreds of children and women lined the outskirts around large white tents, watching a bunch of people in suits make cheesy speeches.
But, I thought this project was different from some of the others. It is an example of how philanthropy I think can make a difference. The idea of this project isn't condescending. It uses resources within Rwanda to help Rwanda.
It was a refreshing change, from the many other launches I've attended, and it's for this reason I hope when I come back this project is still running.
August 16, 2007 — Dry season, my ass....
One of the things I loved about Rwanda was the weather. I arrived in the middle of dry season. Dry, sunny days everyday, it was glorious. It was between 20-25C everyday. Sometimes it would get a little hot around noon, but that was ok, I could handle it.
My mother would call me here and say that Toronto was in the midst of a heat wave and she was going to hide-out inside her air-conditioned house with the dog. But not me, I was enjoying the land of a thousand hills and it's beautiful weather. That was until yesterday, when the dry season became not so dry.
Yesterday I was at TVR finishing a story I had gone out to cover earlier that morning. It started thundering and raining a little bit, but nothing big. Apparently the odd shower is normal. I asked one of my colleagues whether he thought it would start pouring, and he said no, no, it's dry season, you're fine to go home, you won't get wet. So, I finished my story and went to catch the bus.
By the time my bus reached my stop it was pouring. Some of the gutters were already overflowing, there were little rivers running across the road and I missed dry Rwanda already. I got off the bus and attempted to run home. But, I quickly discovered that trying to run and jump over the little streams that had formed on the road was not easy and I resolved myself to walking.Two people passed me on my way back to offer a ride, but by that point I was already soaked to the bone and didn't want to get in their nice car, sopping wet so I declined. But I was touched by the offers. I can't count the number of times I've got caught in the rain or snow in Ottawa and had drivers whiz past, spraying slush all over me. There's nothing like Rwandan hospitality sometimes.I made it home, the guards had a good laugh at how wet I was and our cook apologized for my appearance.
I got changed, rung out my clothes and started to get used to the fact that perfect weather can't last forever.
August 8, 2007 — Rwamagana, jail and brochette
Today I had the opportunity to travel out of Kigali to the eastern province of Rwamagana. Another reporter and I were covering a story on a man who had been charged with rape. We were going to interview the man at the jail he was being held at.
Rwamagana is about an hour drive out of Kigali. The reporter, cameraman and I left the TV station with the Rwanda police's head communication officer and his driver around 10 o'clock this morning. At Television Rwanda it is not unusual for whoever we are doing a story about to come and pick us up. In this case the Rwandan police drove us to the police headquarters in Rwamagana then to the jail.
I should mention that on our way to Rwamagana we had no idea what the story we were going to cover was. The explanation I had been given was we were doing a story on security. So I had not prepared myself for where we were going and who we were going to speak to.
When we arrived at police headquarters in Rwamagana we had to wait an hour for the director of police. I'm not sure why we had to wait, but in this country it seems like I spend a lot of time waiting for various things. Once he finally arrived everyone introduced themselves and shook hands and we drove 2 minutes down the road to a jail.
The jail was like a holding place where people first go when they are arrested by the police. An interesting thing I noticed was the lack of security. We saw a few men come out of the jail, which looked like a medium sized house with one small high set window at the front and a door at the side. But, these men were never handcuffed, were very loosely escorted to the office where they would be interrogated and then they returned to the jail. I was very surprised at the lack of police officers present and non-chalant way these prisoners moved from one area to the next.
By the time we had arrived at the jail I had been told we were interviewing a 67-year-old witch doctor. He was charged with raping a 27-year-old woman. Apparently he had told the woman that if he had sex with her it would cure her epilepsy.
We sat in the room with the investigator while the man was asked what he had done, but the camera was not rolling. After a five minute questioning from police we were allowed to interview the man behind the jail. This is when things got interesting.
From what I understood and had translated for me (all the interviews were done in Kinyarwanda) the man did not want to explain what he had done on camera. He said he had already given his statement and the reporter should look at that if he wanted to know what happened.
This was not an acceptable answer, so the police communications officer we came with began asking questions on camera, along with the reporter. I couldn't believe it. Between the two of them they got a few more details out of this man, but not much. Please keep in mind that this man has not been to court yet, and while he has confessed to raping the woman, police officials and the courts still have to decide if, he is in fact guilty and what his punishment (if any) should be.
After the old man was returned to jail, seven other men were ushered out in front of us. They were truck drivers who had been caught trying to bribe police. We interviewed two of these men. Basically what I understood from these interviews is that these men simply tried to bribe a police officer to try and by pass a long wait at a check point. A couple weeks ago the New Times reported that some police had been accepting these bribes. I asked the PR guy if he thought the bribing of Rwandan police was becoming a problem. He gave me a standard answer of absolutely not, it may happen in other countries, but not in Rwanda.
Anyway, after these men were questioned by the reporter they were again returned to jail.
After we finished at the jail we all went and shared brochette and fries before driving home. They certainly do things differently here.
August 6, 2007— When we became the half-time show...
Yesterday Garrett and I decided to go and watch a soccer game. Soccer is like Africa's hockey. A lot of people play, and if you don't play you watch. I was hoping to go enjoy a good game and maybe see some crazy fans, I wasn't disappointed.
We arrived at Amahoro stadium just after the game started. We paid 500 francs (about $1) for admission and made our way into the half-empty stadium. I had decided before we got there that I was going to cheer for the yellow team if there was one and I couldn't have made a better decision.
We sat in what seemed like the rowdiest section of the stadium. There were drums, painted backs and faces, jerseys, hats, flags, horns and whistles. They were all cheering for the team in yellow called 'Atraco'. Garrett and I sat down amid some stares and started to enjoy the entertainment.
I was amazed at how these fans kept going and going. Screaming, singing songs, chanting, dancing up and down the thick cement seats. At home I've seen some crazy fans, but these guys never rested.
The first half of the soccer game was fairly uneventful. A few curious kids took turns sitting beside Garrett and I. Poking at my arm to see what a white person felt like. There was an older man who kept combing his beard with a little red comb between dancing, screaming and clapping wildly. He took an immediate interest in us and sang about us in his chants.
We also discovered that beer was only 300 francs (about 60 cents), which made our soccer experience that much better.
But then came half-time, where all attention seemed to focus on the two muzungo's quietly drinking their beer and clapping occasionally. First it was the kids, then it was a man wearing a green monster mask trying to get us to give him beer. Then it seemed to be the rest of the cheering squad. By the time half-time was over we had collected quite the crowd.
The game restarted and Garrett and I got right into the spirit of things. Clapping, yelling, pretending to sing the songs (they were in Kinyarwanda, so we couldn't understand the words). Everyone thought this was hilarious that the muzungo's were cheering and carrying on like everybody else.
Then came the camera. I'm not sure who this random camera guy was, I think he might have been taking pictures for the team. But, he decided that everyone needed to have their pictures taken with the white people. So, Garrett and I sat singing and clapping, getting our picture taken with everyone on the cheer squad. They gave us their colourful green, white and yellow wool hats to wear as they posed with us for pictures. I felt like a celebrity, or maybe just one of those dressed up characters at Disneyland. I even got the camera guy to take some pictures with my camera.
The best part was at the end of all the hugging, squishing in for photos and smiling, we got to keep our hats. It was one of the best days I've had here so far.
After the game finished (the final score was 0-0 by the way) Garrett and I said bye to our new friends and promised them we would return next week. We went for another drink across the road and then took motos home. Too bad all pro-sport fans couldn't be that entertaining.
August 4, 2007 — At least they're feeding me well...
Television Rwanda is the state controlled TV station in Rwanda. As the government's TV station it covers a lot of meetings, press conferences and workshops. I have had the pleasure of going to some of these press conferences in the past two weeks and these are some of the things I have observed and learned.
First of all, the more important the person at one of these functions, the better the food. I attended an African Union meeting on integration and the food at the coffee break was amazing. They had mini-sandwiches, mini-pizzas, croissants, cake, muffins, tea, coffee, fanta, etc. It was wonderful. Usually the more important meetings are held at nicer venues around the city, including the Serena Hotel or the Milles Collines. So naturally the nicer the hotel the nicer the food at break, but when one covers as many meetings as I seem to be doing this is a very important observation.
Secondly, hardly anyone remembers to turn off their cellphone during these meetings. In Rwanda almost everyone has a cellphone. And during what seems to be an important or serious workshop there are phones ringing all the time, and the other unbelievable thing is people sometimes answer their phone during a conference. I couldn't believe it the first time this happened. And it's not like it's acceptable to leave one's phone on during these meetings, conferences etc. Because when someone's phone does ring, there are people who look over and scowl, just like we do in Canada. I asked a reporter about the turning off cellphones the other day, and she said it just happens.
Third, when attending a meeting you must ALWAYS interview the director, president, vice-president or whoever the most important person there is. We were at a networking fair for students at the School of Finance and Business. The fair wasn't put on by the school, it was through another organization. So we interviewed some of the students there, the vice-president of the organization and one of the businesses looking to recruit students. We were just about to leave when a PR guy approaches us and tells us we need to interview the director of the school of Finance and Business. The reporter I was with said oh no thanks, we have enough stuff to do the story. But this PR guy was relentless and told us it was rude if we came to the school and didn't interview the director, even if he didn't really have anything to do with the workshop, other than the fact it was on school property.
I tried to explain to the PR man that we really had enough material and that we really didn't need to interview the director, but was told that in Rwanda it's rude to not interview the director or person in charge. So we did, and I haven't edited the story yet, but I can tell you I won't be using any of those clips.
Those are the top three things I've noticed about covering meetings and conferences here. I'm sure I will be covering many more over the next five weeks, since they make up the majority of the newscast. I'm hoping to encourage reporters to take the issue covered at the press conference and try to relate it to real people. Right now, we just go to a meeting, report what happened and that's it. But, in the meantime at least they're feeding me well at these things.
August 3, 2007 — That 'muzungu' on television...
I started my internship at Television Rwanda about two weeks ago. Initially I thought I would be going out to the field with reporters, helping them with interviews, writing scripts and editing stories. So far I am doing all these things, with a few added jobs.
My first day at TVR I got sent out to cover a press conference at police headquarters, with just a camera man and I. This was not supposed to be the case, for whatever reason the reporter who was supposed to meet us at police headquarters didn't show. But I didn't think it was a big deal. I'm a real journalist (sort of) I can cover press conferences, no problem. This was before I realised the press conference would be in Kinyarwanda.
So, I sat through the conference and madly read about what it was about, from material I borrowed from another reporter (it was on the human rights report on the killing of Rwandan prisoners). I even managed to ask a question with encouragement from my camera man. He assured me the head of police spoke very good English. It went as well as one could expect a press conference in a foreign language could go. I went back to the newsroom, helped another reporter put together the script, she read it on air, no big deal.
However, the next few days were a little bit different. I went to cover stories either by myself or with another reporter, if the majority of the people there would be speaking Kinyarwanda or French. Then we would come home, and I would write the English script and read the voiceover myself. I was really surprised when they asked me to read it the first time, I figured they wouldn't want a Canadian reporting on Rwandan television. But I read a few stories, no one complained so I continued on.
My next step was to start doing the English stand-ups for stories. One of the things the reporters are trying to do at TVR is more stand-ups with their stories. And if possible, a stand-up in French, Kinyarwanda and English, because they have a newscast in each language. My first stand-up went to air on wednesday night. And by thursday afternoon I was no longer allowed to be reporting the news on TVR. For the record, this is not because my stand-up was awful. According to people at TVR they were getting complaints from the public about having foreigners report the news on their television station.
I respect this decision. I was surprised when they first asked me to read the news for the English newscast, and was even more surprised when they wanted me to appear on camera. I must say I was very apprehensive about being the only white girl on TVR. I understand why Rwandans want other Rwandans reporting their news, it's only fair, and in a country where the media is still not trusted and is trying to recover, I think it is better that Rwandans tell their own stories to each other.
Since this decision, my job has not changed a lot. I still go out with reporters and help them conduct interviews, write scripts and choose clips. As well, I don't have to worry about whether my hair is a disaster from the moto ride I took that morning, whether I have make-up on and if my shirt is wrinkled.
July 24, 2007 — Moto madness
It took me a very long time to get used to riding motos in Kigali. They are a very common mode of transportation here, most of the other interns love them and I will admit if you need to get somewhere in a hurry, the moto is the way to go.
I am not their biggest fan. I don’t like having to wear a helmet that a hundred other people have put on their head as well and that are sometimes missing part of a visor, or do not have a proper strap to make sure it doesn’t fall off. I’m also not a fan of weaving in and out of traffic and around corners at high rates of speed. Usually when I ride a moto I hang on to the back handle for dear life, while I think about a plan of action in case something goes terribly wrong and we crash.
But, while I don’t like being a moto passenger, driving one is a different story. Last week, I past by the driving school in Kigali. There were people learning to drive cars and there were also people learning to drive motos. They practice on a dirt soccer field, around pylons, with and without passengers, starting and stopping etc.
Some of the other interns and I thought it would be fun if we could learn how to drive a moto, so today we went to ask. We showed up at the soccer field, and were greeted by a bunch of young guys, all playing around on their motos, and for 100 francs (like 20 cents) they would let us drive around the soccer field.
I started my moto by myself and steered by myself. The moto owner rode on the back and changed gears for me. We drove one huge lap around the soccer field, I was screaming and smiling, wind blowing in my hair, while the Rwandans watched laughing at the white girl trying to drive a moto.
While I don’t think this experience has cured my fear of motos I did have a great time and I think we might all go back to get a full lesson on how to drive a moto.
July 23, 2007 — The day we met African horse flies…
On Saturday, 17 of us piled into a mini-bus at 5 am to start the two hour drive to Akagera national park on the Rwanda and Tanzania border.
After what seemed like endless winding roads and almost hitting a cow we arrived at the park gates, paid our entrance fee and met our guide. The safari would take us 6 to 7 hours, we would be allowed to get out of the bus at some points during the trip and we would stop for lunch along the way.
The bus we were all packed into was exactly like one of the city buses, basically a cube van with seats. The first time our guide told the driver to turn off the road, down a little hill, around some rocks and through trees I thought we would all be pushing our little bus out of Akagera, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ style. But, aside from occasionally losing the spare tire, our little bus made it around the whole park. Up hills, down hills, over rocks and through trees, I was amazed. Actually, if I hadn’t been in the bus while it drove the park, I wouldn’t believe it was possible.
On our adventure we saw giraffes, zebras, warthogs, baboons, hippos (my favourite), impala, various birds and beautiful scenery. We also met up with what I’m going to call the African horse fly.
During the course of the day we would drive through many long stretches where it would seem like the flies would invade our bus and drive everyone mad. Meagan and Andrew were the most affected by these flies. They tied sweaters around their heads, shrieked and swatted what seemed to be a losing battle with these little critters. I dubbed them the ultimate bug squad.
Jenny mastered the art of killing them against the window, I’m not sure what her count was, but I do know she was very impressed with her ability to rid the vehicle of some of these pests.
At the end of the trip, our bums and backs were killing us because of the close quarters and bumps on the bus. My legs were covered in red spots. And we were all covered from head to toe in a layer of red dust. But seeing hippos hanging out in a lake was worth the trip.
On Sunday following our Akagera adventure Andrew, Meagan and I trekked up a mountain to visit Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. This was the one trip I really wanted to take while I was here, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I had heard all these horror stories about the trek up the mountain. Some of my friends told me they were hiking for 7 hours, in the mud getting stung by stinging nettles. A stinging nettle is a plant that stings you if you touch it. They can leave nasty little red blotches after being stung. However, after all of these scary stories our trek was pretty easy, and the gorillas were amazing.
We started out for the mountain at 4:00a.m. Meagan and Andrew slept part of the way to the head office, while I held on to the seat as our driver Alphonse negotiated the winding Rwandan roads.
Once we arrived, Alphonse signed us up to see the Sousa group. It is the biggest group of mountain gorillas tourists can visit, it has approximately 35 gorillas. It is also supposed to be one of the harder groups to hike to. Meagan nearly went back home when she thought Alphonse said he signed us up for the ‘suicide group’ but we convinced her it wasn’t going to be that bad.
After tea and an orientation at the head office we all piled back into our jeeps to be driven up to the base of the mountain. Normally I would have said the roads were atrocious, but after doing Akagera in a mini-bus the land rover just powered over the bumps and potholes with ease.
We started up the mountain at 8:30a.m. At first we hiked by many farmers fields. One of the things that amazes me about this country is the way they farm on the side of mountains. It took us an hour to walk to the beginning of the forested area, and all the way we were walking by or through farmers fields. I can’t imagine the amount of work it takes to care for these fields, let alone harvest them and bring the crops back down to the villages.
We started up through the thicker forest, single file behind our guide, two soldiers (in case we run into poachers, or other, not so friendly animals) and a man with a machete who cuts a path for us. I managed not to fall and to only be stung once by a nettle and we were hanging out with the gorillas about 30 minutes after entering the forest.
The gorillas themselves were hilarious. When we got there, two gorillas were play fighting, rolling around in the grass, biting and punching each other. Others were hanging out and falling out of trees. Well, falling out of trees in slow motion, they would be sitting eating in a bamboo tree and the branch would start to bend slowly and eventually it would break and the gorilla would roll away, down the hill to munch on some other plant.
I couldn’t believe how close we got to them. We would be standing watching one group and another one would come up behind us and brush right by. I could reach down and touch them if I wanted.
We spent just over an hour with them. Watching them play, sleep, walk, roll, fall out of trees and beat their chest. No one wanted to leave, but eventually our guide led us away and back down the mountain.
At the bottom of the hill our guides awarded us an official gorilla trekking certificate (I think Andrew is getting his framed). We thanked our guides, Meagan bought a little gorilla statue one of the locals was selling and we piled into the land rover to start the 3-hour drive back to Kigali.
It was an amazing day.
July 20, 2007 — Faces and Fences
Yesterday I took my first walk through one of the poorer neighbourhoods in Kigali. I came across it on my way home from one the various markets in the city. It started with what looked to be a smaller market. There were some butchers, many women sitting on the side of the street with fruits and vegetables for sale. One woman was even selling fish heads.
There were children playing everywhere. Lots of kids have what looks like a thin wheel, and they roll it up and down the hill with a stick. Most of them can run really fast with this little toy, I was very impressed.
I, of course being white, was an instant celebrity in this little community. I took out my camera and a group of men asked me to take their picture. I also attracted a group of curious kids wanting to see what I was up to.
As I walked up the road I’d here screams and then ‘mzungo, mzungo’ and I’d look up to see little faces waving through windows, from behind trees or fences. The kids would wave furiously and say ‘bonjour, bonjour!’ before breaking out into giggles again after I’d wave back and say hello, bonjour or muraho.
I met a man on my way through the neighbourhood. He was a musician and plays with children at the local youth centre. His name was Raz, he wore this big yellow hat, and was so excited when I said I wanted to see him and the kids practice at the youth centre one day. I’m going to go next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.
The rest of my walk went about the same. An old woman followed me for a while speaking Swahili. I knew she was speaking Swahili because she would say the word then look at me hopefully, then she would continue to speak and gesture. I told her I could only speak English and some French (I told her in both languages as well), but she didn’t understand, so we spent a few minutes playing charades, but in the end gave up.
I also met another man on my walk. I don’t know his name, but he was very impressed I could speak my three words of Kinyarwandan. Then he tried to get me to sit down with him back at his hut. I’m not sure what his intentions were, but I smiled and declined several times just the same.
I ended up back on a main road and took the bus back into downtown. It’ll be a long time before I forget that walk.
July 19, 2007 — Market Madness…..
Over the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few different markets in Kigali. Before I came one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing were the markets. I had this romantic idea in my head of what a market would be like, and while they are not what I had envisioned, what I did experience was way more fun.
First of all, when I went into the market place, people immediately tried to sell me whatever they had. More often than not they would take my arm and bring me to their stall to show me everything they had for sale. Including men’s pants, shirts, things that were clearly way too big or way too small for me or things for children. It didn’t seem to matter that I was a fairly skinny young woman; I would be shown whatever they had to offer.
When someone finishes showing me everything in his or her little booth and I don’t want to buy anything, I find it very hard to leave. No never means no here. And it doesn’t matter what language I say it in. It always takes me a few tries to move on to another vendor.
Then as we walk to the next vendor there are three more people calling ‘mzungo, mzungo’ and pointing at their things. Everyone wants to say hi, or bonjour and shake our hand. The best reaction some of the other interns and I have gotten is when we greet someone in Kinyarwandan and they can’t believe we know any words in their language. It only gets difficult when someone tries to continue a conversation in Kinyarwandan after we’ve exhausted our vocabulary by saying hello, how are you and I’m fine.
At one market we went to, a man followed us from vendor to vendor. I think at one point he was trying to sell me clothes that were not really his to sell. He was an older man, and was determined that I should leave with a skirt of some sort. Every time we turned around he had another skirt to show me. I’m finding it hard to say no when people are that persistent, but for the record I did not buy any skirts that day.
Another thing I found interesting about the markets was how close everyone was to one another. Vendors are all jammed into one area; women often sleep underneath their table of clothes on more clothes. A lot of the time I saw two or three people sitting on their tables with the merchandise. Clothes, toys and various other things hang from every imaginable space. It’s amazing how much stuff people can fit into a tiny space.
So far I’ve visited five markets in Kigali. I have yet to buy anything, but there’s still plenty of time. I did see some fabric that caught my eye; the question will be whether I will be able to find it again.
July 18, 2007 — You want me to ride in that?
At first glance, the streets in Kigali look chaotic. There are motos, which are small motorcycles, zipping in and out of cars. There are buses, which resemble cube vans stuffed full of people. There are numerous cars, SUV’s and taxis plus bicycles carrying various packages and people. Finally, pedestrians saunter on the side of the street and are constantly being honked at by various vehicles to get out of the way.
My favourite mode of transportation in Kigali is the bus. I love the closeness, the music and especially how quickly they seem to come. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve sat waiting for an OC Transpo bus to come and pick me up, but in Kigali the most I’ve had to wait is 10 minutes to get on a bus.
When I say I love the closeness, let me explain that in the bus there are four rows, which fit four people each. When the bus is full, you’re sitting smushed, shoulder to shoulder with other passengers, leaving the comforts of the Canadian personal space syndrome at the curb. And I’m surprised that I don’t mind this, but really it’s a great feeling to be packed in with everyone on your way home.
I should also mention that some of the buses in Kigali are decorated with various soccer teams, soccer players, basketball teams, phrases and some outrageous upholstery. And the best buses play music. I’ve only been here just over a week but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard Acon or Rihanna’s new single ‘Umbrella’.
I even don’t mind when the bus breaks down. This happened to me today. I was on my way downtown to the local coffee shop when the bus I was riding pulled over to the side and stalled. The porter (the man who sits by the side door and collects money) took what looked like a little watering can full of oil out from behind the driver’s seat where part of the engine is and began banging it on the sidewalk and then pouring out what I thought was oil, but might have been something else. The driver also got out and was watching. Finally they put the mini-watering can back where it was before and started the bus. The driver then revved the engine and we started slowly up the hill. I didn’t think we were going to make it and I was picturing myself walking the rest of the way downtown, but we did. The bus kept jerking forward, sort of like the first time you learn to drive standard and don’t quite find the right gear. However, the most interesting part of this whole experience was how no one in the bus seemed to care. I was trying to imagine if something like this happened at home, and I’m pretty sure passengers would be infuriated. But on my bus no one even batted an eye. We all just sat, squished together like sardines stopping and starting all the way up the hill.
The only thing I don’t like about taking the bus is trying to get on one downtown at rush hour. Usually there are a bunch of buses that pull up to the stop and they are all going different places. As soon as the bus pulls up the porter opens the door and people push their way out of the bus, while other people try to push their way in. Meanwhile the porter starts yelling where his bus is going and tries to get more people to ride his bus. It gets really competitive sometimes, you have people yelling the same location and trying to herd other people away from one bus and onto the next. There are also people who stay at the bus stops and just yell out destinations for certain buses and they get a cut of the profit before it pulls out. I’ve missed a few buses because I wasn’t pushy enough to get on.
But, I’ve started making some friends at the bus stop, and more often then not someone will help you find the right bus and then make room for you to get on. So while at first I couldn’t believe how a system like this one could work, it’s great and I’m going to miss it when I leave.