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The People on the Bus Go Up and Down, Part II

The Trek Team's route from Bamako, Mali to Dakar, Senegal
"But it's not the destination, it's the journey that matters," Abeja said as she brushed away the fly from her sweaty, pallid forehead. We all looked at her in stunned silence, then Kavitha rolled her eyes and tried to go back to sleep. She carefully maneuvered her head onto the tiny wooden stool and curled the rest of her body into the narrow seat. Kevin grunted, then mopped the sweat from his brow, and I started to giggle uncontrollably... Hee-hee-ha-ha-hoo-HOO-HAH... (dissolve into maniacal, sleep-deprived laughter). Jasmine sat in the back, behind twenty-eight other people in a minivan meant for fifteen, squirming under the weight of the small child on her lap.

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Are we there yet?
It was early Sunday morning and the trek team, en route from Bamako to Dakar, was already wiped out. Friday night we had taken the overnight train from Bamako to Kayes, near the Senegalese border. After a four-hour wait in the steaming, oppressive heat on Saturday, we got on this minivan, which took a whopping twenty-six hours to get to Dakar. I'm sorry, can I say that again? TWENTY-SIX HOURS STRAIGHT. At this point we were on hour fourteen, and we were starting to lose it.

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And, back to sleep
"My booty hurts," said Jasmine, again. We were all constantly shifting, trying to find a comfortable position to sit. However, it is kind of difficult when someone's elbow is jammed into your skull, there is literally no place to put your legs, and the seat meant for one person is occupied by two. The physical sensation in our butts was kind of like when you hit your funnybone. But this wasn't funny, it wasn't in our elbows, and it never went away. Just try hitting your funnybone, if you dare, and then imagine that feeling in your rear end... for TWENTY-SIX HOURS!!! You get the feeling that you will never, ever be comfortable again, for the rest of your life… You would stay on this bus with twenty-seven other people forever, and you would all catch pink-eye from that one woman and her two sons who were touching everything, and you would only eat potato chips and stale bad chocolate cookies for all your meals, and your bottom would be sore forever and ever and ever and ever.... you would suffocate and die here, from the heat and the loss of blood circulation, and they would have to cart your contorted body out on a stretcher when you finally got to Dakar.

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Time for a midnight snack: stale cookies!
No, but really. The cookies were actually okay and the potato chips were nice and salty, good for replacing all the sweat we were losing. The rest of it was pretty difficult. We had been tricked, but we had no one to blame but ourselves. Losers! When we first looked at the minivan, the driver's seat and the front passenger seat seemed comfy, and the two seats directly behind the driver were wide and had headrests. None of us bothered, however, to actually go inside and inspect the rest of the seats, which were hard, extremely narrow benches and, yup, they didn't have headrests. So we had paid the equivalent of $20US each for the direct ride to Dakar. We only discovered our mistake much later, when it was too late, when they kept cramming adults and small children into the spaces we thought our legs were meant to go… for instance, the AISLE!!! Man, it was so uncomfortable, especially when we were trying to sleep. There was nowhere to put our heads except on the window, where it would bang and wake us up every time the minivan hit a pothole. Kevin had a terrific collection of welts and bruises on his freshly-shaven head. (He had encouraged me to get a haircut too while we were waiting for the bus in Kayes). We rotated out of the most uncomfortable seats, "because if we're going to be uncomfortable, at least different muscle groups will be uncomfortable," explained Kavitha.

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And, back to sleep again
Jasmine let us all listen to her Discman. Between track 14 and 16 of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, I think I fell asleep, but then woke up again when we hit another pothole. That CD was the highlight of my trip, along with the brief rain shower. I finally felt cool and refreshed. Unfortunately, they closed the windows when it began to rain and you know how much I hate having the window closed. So I just tried to meditate and transport myself in my mind to somewhere far, far away. It didn't work!

We thought Kayes was right near the border. However, it seemed like hours and hours until we reached the border checkpoint. Good thing because Abeja and Kavitha and I really, really had to pee. We were even considering playing back the multimedia file of the muezzin's call to prayer on her computer so everyone would get confused and stop the bus to get out and pray. But thankfully we eventually reached the border guard and we all peed behind the building, then promised each other not to drink any more water so we wouldn't get that desperate again. It was a choice between dehydration or wetting our pants. Well, what would YOU do? The border official on the Mali side kept on bugging us for our Mali visas. Since we got them in all different places the guy in the uniform got all confused. He finally let us go, but not until he gave Jasmine a good talking-to, in French, while I went and peed again behind a tree.

For the rest of the trip the bus stopped at weird times, once at four in the morning for a brief nap period and again during the day for prayer and tea breaks. At first, we would get out during the stops and take advantage of the opportunity to stretch our legs. But by hour twenty-three we just decided not to move, and instead sat there stoically, swatting away the endless procession of flies that landed on us. I slapped a big mosquito against the window, where it smeared with a trail of blood...yuck. Kevin and Abeja really liked the bags of sweet ginger and hibiscus juice that kids were selling through the van windows at every stop for 50CFAs.

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At last, something remotely nice about this bus ride
Kavitha and I were reading "Cry, the Beloved Country" by Alan Paton, which I read in high school but never appreciated. Now, having visited South Africa, I really liked it, but it made me cry because I was so tired and uncomfortable and hot. Kavitha, too, had tears in her eyes, and in the back, across from Jasmine, the young mother, whose eyes were dripping with goo, kept hitting her young child while it also cried and cried. The child's eyes were swollen and probably painful. When we realized there was pinkeye on the bus, we all tried to keep clean by washing our hands with alcohol hand gel; Jasmine got us all paranoid about touching our eyes. We were constantly telling each other, "Ne touchez pas!" (NO! Don't touch your eyes).

When we finally saw the big buildings of downtown Dakar, at around 4 p.m. Sunday, I can't describe to you how happy we were. We pulled in, got off the bus, took down all our big backpacks, and sat there in the bus station. We were so thankful to not have to go on a long ride like that again… at least for a little while. In the taxi, Abeja breathed a sigh of relief and grinned. "We're finally in Dakar, world trekkers! The end is in sight," she told Kevin and Jasmine, who managed weak smiles. Another destination reached! And the journey continues...


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Abeja - You think you've got problems? Try getting across the Sahara Desert sometime!
Team - Kevin Gets a Souvenir from Africa: Malaria
Jasmine - Lac Rose
Kavitha - Jammin'...Groovin'...Diggin' the tunes!
Monica - The Ingredients of crossing the Sahara desert: Sand, Water and Landmines???
Monica - Trying to sail the ocean blue!
Team - Bittersweet Recollections: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Mali
Making a Difference - Abeja gets M.A.D.-- she's Making a Difference

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