The bus is my favorite anomaly of Samoa. As one of the PCVs was leaving in November, I asked her if she would miss the bus (she was saying how she had to take the bus back to her village because where she lived was between Apia and the airport, and PC only gives you money from your village to the airport at close of service, so she had to go back to her village on the bus first, and then take a taxi). She said “yes and no.” There are certainly things to love about the bus in Samoa, mostly in that it is an experience you will never find anywhere else, but it is also a complete sensory overload – music too loud, too many people, too little personal space. I told her I had already dedicated two entire blog posts to the bus, and that I would get out at least one more while I’m here. So here it is, some of my favorite moments from the bus.
• There was a little boy sitting on his mother’s lap, and in the seat in front of them was a girl who appeared to be in her late teens, maybe early twenties. The boy was contentedly sucking on a lollipop. You can guess what’s coming next. About halfway through the bus ride, the girl turns around, yanks the lollipop out of the boy’s mouth, and starts sucking on it herself. The boy immediately throws himself wholeheartedly into a temper tantrum, complete with screaming, crying, and thrashing about as he droops out of his mother’s lap. Eventually he lands on the floor, the mother makes the girl return the lollipop, and the boy refuses to stop crying or stand up even though he has his candy back. It took a few more minutes to get him to sit calmly in the seat again
• My bus always stops at a petrol station on the way home so everyone can make their last purchases before returning to the village. There is generally an ice cream stand, too, so most people return to the bus with an ice cream cone in addition to bags of sugar, bread, and snacks. One of the mothers on the bus brought an ice cream cone back for her son who was sitting on the bus and waiting for her. She hands it to him, and he immediately turns it horizontal so that he has best access to the prime licking location. Needless to say, gravity took effect shortly thereafter, and the whole scoop of ice cream ended up on his lap. No problem. Mom just scooped it up, put it back on the cone, and returned to her shopping.
• In the week before Christmas, a lot of unusual passengers got on my bus. Normally I only recognize a handful of people on my bus, but sometimes I’m observant enough to tell when a visitor is on the bus. I noticed this particular time because I sat next to her. I always get on the bus early to get a seat while we’re waiting for it to leave, and I usually get shuttled to the empty seat. Well, there was only one empty seat, and it was in a prime location, and I knew that it would be better to leave it empty for the matais or the older women or the blind man who plays guitar who I sometimes see on the last bus. So I sat there for about five minutes, then switched to the empty aisle seat behind me so I could leave the prime real estate vacant. The woman I sat next was noticeably grumpy – she had been trying to sleep, and she got all huffy when I sat down next to her. Sitting next to a palagi is usually either a love/hate kind of thing, and I could tell she hated it. Then somebody from my village got on the bus and started talking to me in Samoan, and her whole attitude changed. She started talking to me, taught me some new Samoan words, and we sang along to the music on the bus together. I always sing along to the radio, so when I know the words to the songs on the bus, I always sing along, and everybody looks at me like I’m crazy. Sometimes I dance a little bit too.
• Australian interlude – I was riding a tourist shuttle around Melbourne to get a quick overview of the city. It wasn’t full when I got on, but it filled up quickly. People just continued to stand in the aisle and move back every time somebody new got on. I was thinking to myself “There is plenty of room on the bus. We can easily get at least three people on a seat, or the kids can sit on parent’s laps, or someone can double up so that everyone has a place to sit.” Immediately after thinking this, I remembered that I was in Australia, not Samoa, and that was not likely to happen. Then, immediately after thinking that, someone squeezed onto a seat so there were three of them. I couldn’t tell quite what the relationship was, but the girl and boy already sitting in the seat seemed to be dating, and the other girl who squeezed on seemed to be the first girl’s sister. That’s my guess. As soon as the newcomer squished onto the seat, the girl who was now in the middle immediately started complaining about how there was no room. They remained that way for the rest of the time I was on the bus, which was only about 5 more minutes.
• My village bus is also a great place to hang out in the morning. I was completely unaware of this fact for my entire first year here. In the morning, the bus first goes to the flea market to drop people off, then it circles around to the vegetable market, where it drops everybody else and their bags of produce off, then it comes back to the flea market. Most of the time, it just sits there until it leave again (my village bus makes two trips a day during the week, and only one on Saturdays). Sometimes it visits a mechanic, or hangs out in a field behind the vegetable market if the flea market waiting area is too full, but usually it sits at the flea market. After the bus makes a full circle in the morning, the people remaining on the bus (who are mostly relatives of the family that owns the bus) eat breakfast on the bus. You can buy pankeke, saimini, sausages, bananas, sandwiches, and other normal breakfast fare at the flea market. And it always comes with a cup of extra-sugary 3-in-1 coffee (a powdered mix of coffee, creamer, and sugar. Add hot water and about 3 more spoonfuls of sugar, then you have coffee).
• One time I was waiting for the afternoon bus at the end of school on Friday. We always get out of school early on Fridays because that’s when most people go into town to do their shopping. I live almost at the end of my district, so the bus always goes past my first, then comes back through. I had missed it the first time around, so I was waiting for it to come back. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Usually it takes no more than 30 minutes for the bus to go to the end of the district and back, but I had been waiting for almost an hour. When the bus finally arrived, I saw why. Three palagis were on the bus. A boy was sharing the front seat with an old woman, and the next best seat was taken by the two palagis who were obviously dating. This meant that the bus had to go past our district down to the beach fales where they had been staying to pick them up, making the trip extra long. In addition, they had huge suitcases, and one of them was drinking a bottle of Vailima (the locally produced Samoan beer). It was just after 12, but he probably needed it. Recalling this incident to another PCV, she said how she always loves to see palagis on the bus because they are so excited at first (“I’m riding a local bus!”) but as the bus gets fuller and fuller, and people start sitting on each other, then hanging out the door, you can see their expression change to “Get me out of here!” That’s usually how it goes, although I’ve met some really good sports on my bus.