Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bus surfing

This weekend I went to visit Jena who lives in the next town along. Usually quite an uneventful journey although never without frustrations but this weekend was exceptional… the wind in Kostani ( 6 hours away) was blowing snow over the road which means that the buses from my town which run Zhitikara-Kostani-Zhitikara were not running….so I got a seat on the only private minibus from the town and ended up having a pram wedged between me and the person opposite me for the two and a half hour journey…and I though getting there was going to be the difficult part…

Coming back was a joke. No buses for the second day as the snow drifts had not been cleared. Rather than run late the buses are cancelled but in the late afternoon they started arriving. Fine. Except the only buses that go to Zhitikara are Zhitikara buses (there are five each day) and to but a ticket in Lisakovsk you must wait for the bus you want to arrive and see if there are any places left. They pretty much run on time so that is not too much of a problem. When all free places have been sold or it is established there are no places there is then a stampede to the bus itself led by the grandmother types who always can out manoeuvre you to get to the front of the queue. So you wait and then the bus gets filled up with ticket holders while those without have to argue their merits to be allowed to stand – the driver is not obligated to take you and depending on mood will take some, all or none. Well with all buses full to the gunnels they were not stopping to let people on leaving me and everyone else stranded. I could not even get a seat in a taxi. So the only option is to sit and wait it out for the next bus which I dutifully did.

Fortunately for me when the bus arrived I was spotted by an amiable young police officer who has seen me a few times in the orphanage and speaks a little English which he learnt from missionaries. He saw I was being turned away and told the bus driver that I was to be allowed on. It was really good of him to do that as there was no other way anyone was getting on the already full bus. The act of generocoity did not go down so well with the crowd I was plucked from – one cry of ‘how can you let the youth on when you are not letting on grandmothers’….

Once on the real clapped out Soviet bus it felt a little like the scene in Titanic where the third class are locked down below clamouring to get out – there were people everywhere. 33 seats and a head count of at least 55 – really like the Northern Line in rush hour only with really thick coats, lots of fur and no air. For the first hour I wedged myself into a gap but at the next stop when everyone disembarked for fresh air I inadvertently ended up being among the last to get back on. Big mistake! This placed me standing next to the driver with nothing to hold onto and a large, cracked windscreen to lean on. Normally not the place you really want to be standing for a few hours but it is made even more enjoyable by the potholes in the road which make the whole experience a little more akin to bus surfing as to keep my balance I needed to learn the art of surfing with record speed. I made it home in one piece which is what counts but it felt very much hit and miss at times!


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