Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mon, Aug 19: Minibuses

Andrea: Getting the kids to school today turned out to be more of an adventure than we'd planned. 

Last week Eric or both of us drove the kids to school in the mornings, spent the day in Lilongwe on various errands, then picked the kids up at 2 and headed back for Bunda.  The idea, however, is that the kids ride to Lilongwe on the bus from Bunda in the mornings so we only have to pick them up in the afternoon.  Neither of us want to spend all day, every day in the city – and with gas at $8 a gallon, we don't want to drive the 80-minute round trip twice a day either.  After some persistent lobbying by our colleagues here at Bunda College we were told that the transportation director had agreed to drop the kids at a roundabout about a block away from their school.  The roundabout isn't exactly on the regular bus route but it's not very far off where they normally drop some kids for the Good Shepherd school. 

So this morning we dash off to catch the bus from Bunda to Lilongwe.  It leaves at 6 a.m. but we learned the hard way that if you want to be sure of seats you get there early.  There were two seats left so Emma sat on my lap the whole way.  Halfway to Lilongwe the driver's assistant comes back and tells me that since there are no Good Shepherd students on the bus yet (that school doesn't start up again until next month!) they're not going to the roundabout.  They're going to put us off somewhere else, where we will ride a minibus the rest of the way.  Minibuses are … how to describe them?  Rickety, super-crowded, belching exhaust.  I took some pictures, although photos can't capture the aggressiveness of the minibus drivers.  If I recall right, that security guy at the embassy explicitly warned us against minibuses...

So this is not ideal but we don't really have a choice.  If I had a map of the city we'd try walking it but I'm not even sure where we are.  The driver's assistant (the guy who shoehorns passengers into the rickety vehicle and then somehow manages to collect money from them all after they're all wedged in) takes one look at us and says “Bishop Mackenzie?”  So I'm hopeful that this will work.  It doesn't.  That minibus packs a bunch of people in after us, and after the requisite amount of shouting and arm weaving it starts going.  And keeps going, and going.  The radio is blaring, I'm not that familiar with the city yet, and I'm wedged in with Emma on top of me again so I can hardly see out anyway, but soon it is clear to me that the bus is headed out of the city.  In fact, I eventually catch a glimpse of the sign for the Centre for Tick-Borne Diseases and realize we're on the same road we took to Kamuzu Dam last weekend.  So I phone Eric to tell him where we are – he's driving in to pick me up, and hopefully conclude the transaction for the car.  (He was hoping to do that Friday but the computer system at the Ministry of Transportation wasn't working.)  I don't know why they didn't stop and let us off where they knew we wanted to get off, but they didn't.  We get off when the bus stops and the driver's assistant hustles us onto another minibus headed back into the city.  As we're getting shoehorned in I tell the assistant three times where we want to get off.  This guy believes me and we finally get off at the right place.  It would be a short walk from here but by now Eric has caught up with us so after all that, the kids arrive at school again in the back seat of the little blue Polo. 

As Emma remarked at one point through the haze of diesel fumes, “Well, I guess we did want the full African experience.” 
 Minibuses in Lilongwe

Loading a minibus.  It takes a while to get 18 passengers squeezed in, not counting the driver and his assistant.

 So now it's back to the Bunda transportation director to see what's up.  Meanwhile, Eric and I did some shopping errands and are now sitting in Patson's comfortable house in the city, hoping for a phone call from the guy we're buying the car from before it's time to pick up the kids.

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