When you picture your Granny--you picture a cute, old lady, who sends you spice cookies and since she is old she can say what every she wants and get away with it....99% of the time Grannies are as harmless as flies....right? Maybe in the USofA, but most defiantly not in Botswana (and perhaps the rest of Africa).
I would gather that Grannies in Botswana send their grandchildren mophane worms instead of spice cookies (but the thought is just the same), Grannies here are cute and old...but certainly not harmless as flies when it comes to public transportation.
In America, we are taught to give up our seats on the bus for older people, pregnant women, disabled etc etc. We hold open doors and let elderly get on the bus/plane/train/etc before you. Thats just the right thing to do. Right???
In Botswana, oh the contrary.
Riding public transportation is like a fight to the death. Age and a gender play no role in this battle to the death. Hitching, buses and khombis (15 seater vans) are the primary form of transportation, and you cram as many people into the vehicle as possible.
Just last week, I got elbowed by a Granny in her vain attempt to push me out of the way to get on the bus. ELBOWED. It took me so by surprise that she won the battle and took my seat. Fortunately, the khombi driver took pity on my and I uncomfortably perched on the edge of the seat for our ride out of Lehututu.
There have been many occasions when I have to STAND for several hours on my bus ride back to Lehututu...Buses don’t follow capacity laws, they should--but they don’t. Picture a Grey Hound size bus...then picture that entirely full with 30 people standing in the isle as you speed across Botswana. Riding the bus is a pretty harrowing experience itself. Bus drivers go well over the speed limit--which isn’t that bad...until there is an obstruction in the road. Cows, goats, donkeys, sheep and other vehicles (at times people and donkey carts) frequent the road. Instead of breaking, bus drivers lay on the horn and at the very last minute break and swerve to miss the poor animal. Donkeys are the worst--its a giant game of chicken when a bus and a donkey face off. I prefer to sit in the back so I can’t see what lies ahead of us.
Personal space is a Western concept--there is no concept of personal space, or at times being polite on the bus. The fuller the bus is...the worse it is. During my enjoyable standing experience last weekend on the bus a lady took my water out of my hands a drank it and shared it with her friends. At Christmas time, as I was taking a mint out of my bag and man helped himself to a mint as well. If you are a lucky one to get a seat, mothers will place their children in your lap as if you are a car seat. I flat out refuse to hold a child--one of my friend got peed on. By the end of all of my bus trips, I can’t take anything seriously...I am completely spent.
And hitch hiking...oh my. Thats another story. Hiking as its commonly called in Botswana is a fairly safe and common means of transport. (The Peace Corps does not recommend hitch hiking as a form of transport, but recognizes that it may be necessary at times) Just as with busses or khombis, drivers will cram as many people into the vehicle as possible. When a car pulls over...you and every other person rush to the driver in the attempts of securing a seat. When I say rush, its like Black Friday when the doors of Wal-Mart open...
I hitched into Medie for Christmas, it was about a 30K ride on a bumpy dirt road...I was lucky (I think) to be in the back seat (versus the truck bed). There were 3 other adults plus myself and 3 kids wedged into a spot that would comfortably accommodate 3 adults. Plus my camping back pack and other peoples groceries. I have to say, it was the worst ride so far in Botswana. But you know what...I got to Katy’s house...safe and sound!
What have I learned in all of this? All is fair in love and war. There is no sense holding on to your American ideals when it comes to public transit. You have to develop a stance when queuing for your ride and pretend you are a line backer when getting on and off a bus. Oh, and wear close toed shoes...people well step on your toes. But seriously, if you want to ride public transit in Botswana this is the one time when you really want to integrate (aka be like host country nationals) don’t make eye contact with people as you push them out of the way.