Some would think that public transport is a service that carries you from one place to another rather than an adventure without regrets. After a year in Africa and with more hours clocked up in transit than is thinkable I would have to disagree. From car to bus, to boat to motorcycle, to pick-up trucks and cement lorries, to donkey carts and peddle-bikes, transport links a country, brings it to life and showcases all the people that make it what it is.
When first arriving at the Auto-Gare, in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, it seemed like a hive of sheer madness. The noise of the ever-multiplying vendors mixed with the roars of the drivers and the phlegmy rattles of the waiting estate cars deafens you into senselessness. People grab at your bags trying to pull you into the wearied but enduring cars that only leave when completely packed. Once a seat has been acquired after some hard haggling with a smiling but duplicitous conductor the mayhem transforms however into recognisable disorder. The weaving traders are salesmen at their office, the women lined up selling snacks are the sandwich and bakery shops of Africa and the hoards hurrying to and fro are the frantic bodies of rush-hour and families and individuals making long distance trips for incalculable reasons. The chaos becomes a normalness that can say more about a place than the monuments of kings often can.
Jolting along the roads and dirt tracks of an unknown country in a creaking bus with a mouthful of dust, matted hair and somebody else’s child on your lap is the only way to travel. The uncomfortableness of African travel unites the continent’s passengers. The stranger being squashed into you, by the large man holding a newly purchased chicken, becomes a friend who shares his barley seeds in Ethiopia or his local knowledge on the Southern border of Tanzania. Mamas on their way back from church interject with indignation when drivers try to overcharge people for their sacks of grain and bulging suitcases. Fares are passed over heads and through standing crowds to the conductor where the change is counted then returned via a similar route without mishap. Ancient and stained, the seats maybe broken but from them you can quietly observe or rowdily engage in the goings on of daily life.
Food can be the gateway to a country and the open window of a packed bus or groaning car is one of the best places to find out what is on offer and what the favourites are. Women crowd the windows with goods in plastic bowels balanced on their heads, men waving sticks of meat appear out of nowhere and invariably the voice of a child can be heard trying to sell drinks and boiled eggs. The buying goes on at a furious pace until all deals are done and the vehicle rolls on. Tucking in to fresh corn-on-the-cob, cooked bananas, grasshoppers, samosas or just plain old boiled cassava whilst the rest of the bus gnaws and chews away too is an unbeatable way to enjoy new cuisine and indulge as the locals do.
There are many beautiful places in the world, locations that take your breath away and spots that should not be forgotten however there are also the many adventures that take you to them. Public transport hums ceaselessly along with life, displaying what a country has to offer which is why each moment spent waiting whilst crammed onto a rusting, barely recognisable lump of metal will be treasured. In Africa you cannot control the amount of time spent travelling, two hours can easily become five, five can become ten but your watch will lay on your wrist unread as you bump and jolt your way through the inspiration that is just everyday life.
About the Author: Miss Harry Kidby is an enthusiastic young writer from London. One of my passions is exploring the world and I have just spent a year travelling around Africa with a friend. Africa has inspired me in many ways, one of them being the magnificence of public transport!
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