Tuesday, November 8, 2011
May Have Willed a Giant Asteroid to Hit Earth by Wishing So on a Khumbi
Evidently a large asteroid almost hit earth yesterday. As FoxNews.com put it, "A close shave!". This is supposed to be a blog about public transpo in the Swaz, but with all this interstellar action I would prefer something more secure than a khumbi and possibly manned by a wookiee.
I definitely miss the days of whipping around in the ol' MLK, despite it usually being on E, for absolutely no reason. Or getting somewhere in 15 minutes that would take 3 hours to walk (I would know, walking to get your vehicle from, say, Gregory's in Somers Point is a most unpleasant experience when your head is pounding). Here in Swaziland, unless you have a very good friend with a car, you probably don't have this luxury, and unless your destination is on one of Swaziland's several roads, the dirt will surely impede your transport time. Public transportation is your primary way of getting anywhere yet can be fraught with more obstacles than your average episode of once-popular Nick gameshow, Global GUTS.
All roads lead to Manzini. If they all led to Rome, I'd be eating a Suppli right now. But Manzini isn't a bad second, they have just about everything located within just a few city blocks. The Bus Rank is 'just barely controlled chaos', it could turn at any minute, into anything. There are scores of khumbis, busses and quantums crammed into a giant parking lot. Only most vehicles aren't parked. Ever gotten 'thrown under the bus' by someone? Not like you will in the Manzini bus rank. It's incredibly crowded, so you want to give yourself enough time to navigate the labyrinth of khumbis. They say you can get easily pick-pocketed but fortunately my pockets are generally empty so I have nothing to worry about. I usually just pretend everyone wants my autograph and the dozens of advances from people trying to corrall you onto their vehicles becomes more flattering than anything.
But sometimes getting on the bus (or khumbi) doesn't offer solace. In fact, an end of the month transport situation can be an ordeal. At least double the amount of people will be present. You want to get that window seat or you will be getting up close and personal in ways you never dreamed of with a perfect stranger. Also, a lot of Swazis don't like to ride with the windows down so on the busy days and you can imagine the impact that can have on the inside of a vehicle, the windows fog up and all you can do is hope its over soon and laugh at your crunched up reflection in the window.
There is always an element of danger in a khumbi, specifically. If you are wondering what a khumbi is, its basically a glorified church van, 15-seater. They all have funny names such as "Please Try my Jesus" and "Jersey Queen". It's like naming a boat, but sillier. For you adrenaline junkies, you can fulfill your need for a rush by riding in a speeding khumbi with a full gas tank in your lap with a car in the oncoming lane. "I also like to live dangerously."
Another phenomenon is bus preachers. Last week, I was very sick and just barely made it on the bus and poured my ORS when a man with a bible and a purple suit got on. "No...this can't be happening", I audibly whimpered. Fortunately I brought some over-sized headphones that enabled me to tune into the Lord Armin instead. Just yesterday I was on a bus and a preacher got on, and it allowed me to strike up a conversation with a very eclectic gal in my row who happened to be an Anglican priest. The preacher was saying some homophobic slurs and other close-minded things in his sermon and her and I bonded over how ridiculous they were. It was a refreshing change.
Which leads me to my final point, not all transport is bad! I have had some amazing conversations with people on busses. One time I had a group of boys calling to me to sit with them, "I'm married", and I walked pass, brushing them off. They sat down with me, though I was annoyed at first, I found out quickly they were friends of the previous volunteers at my site and highly motivated young men who wanted help in physics and math. I talked to them for two hours about HIV among high school students and stigma in the community, all facilitated by a bus ride.
Random Swazi Fact of the Week: Sometimes you have to drop the passiveness and be a little agro to get your point across. For instance, if you happen to be very ill and a highly intoxicated man tries to sit next to you, its totally OK to stand up and tell him "NO! You aren't sitting here, find somewhere else or I will throw up on you". I meant it more as a warning to him, not like the infamous Philly fan "vomit assault" - google it.