Monday, June 4, 2012

What Time is the Bus?

Have I made it abundantly clear how much I love the bus in Samoa? As with most quirky things, it generally garners cute adoration because of its lovable strangeness, but those times when it is annoying…throwing it off a cliff isn’t enough to express the frustration it causes. My buses have been particularly whacked out recently for various reasons, so I am going to recount for you some of the adventures I have had with my bus lately.

But first, the basics. I have three buses in my district. They leave between 6 and 7 in the morning, then one comes back to make a second trip to town at about 1 in the afternoon. The Queen Loma leaves town at about 12 or 12:30, the cushy bus leaves around 2 or 2:30, and the Faamanuiaga leaves town around 10:30 (for the second trip) and 5 (last bus of the day). On Fridays, the Queen Loma has started making a second trip, so I get two afternoon buses, one getting to the village around 12, and the other showing up around 1. On Saturdays, the buses usually only make one trip, but the Queen Loma also added a second trip on Saturdays, so it gets to the village around 12, back to town, then leaves town at 3 and returns to the village around 5. My buses always leave from the flea market, they usually circle around to the vegetable market, and then come back to the flea market before leaving town, and they all stop at the same petrol station outside of town. This is important. These are all rough estimates subject to change depending on holidays, mechanical stability of the buses, and faalavelaves (funerals, special church events, etc. for which individual buses are hired to drive large groups of people instead of running on their regular schedule).

Maybe three months ago, the Queen Loma broke down. It’s not unusual for a bus to be out of rotation for a few days due to mechanical issues, but after it hadn’t been running for two weeks, I was a little confused. I asked around and found out that the part that needed replacing was coming from New Zealand and the bus wasn’t expected to be running again until Independence (fast forward to now). Man, what a pain in the butt. I really liked having the second afternoon bus on Fridays and a late bus on Saturdays, but I had lived without them for over a year and surely I could make it through the next three months. There was some accommodation – the village bus from the very edge of my district which usually exclusively serves its own village started taking people from all the villages home because it left Apia at about the same time the Queen Loma would normally have left, but everything else stayed pretty much the same.

Surprisingly, the Queen Loma was up and running again ahead of schedule, just at the end of term 1 of school, almost a month sooner than expected, and just in time for the cushy bus to break down. One in, one out. This was inconvenient timing because it coincided with the beginning of the school break and a major church meeting – the EFKS church holds a national two-week meeting, so buses were extra full with commuters going to the meeting. I went into town one day before I left for Fiji to run some errands. It would have been ideal for me to take my cushy bus home (leaves town at 2), but it was out of commission, so I tried to rush through my errands to catch the Queen Loma earlier instead of waiting for the last bus home, which would again be packed with people returning from the meeting. I finished most of my errands, dropped my bags off on the bus to make sure I would get a seat, and double checked what time the bus would be leaving. It was just before noon, and I was told the bus would leave at one. Perfect, I only had two more stops and that would give me time to get back to the bus early in case it decided to leave early. I walked a few blocks into town, made my stops, and was just leaving to get a snack and by sheer chance happened to look down the street just as my bus drove by the intersection. What? My watch said 12:18, you weren’t supposed to be leaving yet. So I hightailed it back to the bus station and caught the bus second time around. This was lucky because just a week or two earlier, something similar happened when I was trying to take my 2:30 bus. I was told it would leave at 2:30, so I left my bags on the bus, went to meet friends for ice cream, and came back to the bus station just after 2 to catch the bus, and it had already gone. I had to take a taxi to the petrol station to catch it because it hadn’t circled around the markets before leaving – I had missed it.

When I got back from Fiji, I went into town every single day. This was partly due to getting ready for Independence and wanting to catch some of the festivities planned for our golden year, and partly due to the fact that it was the last week of our term break, and so it was the last opportunity to make plans with other PCVs during the day. Everything about town was a nightmare because of the holiday. There were at least twice as many people as normal, traffic was awful, and there were new lines painted all over the road in an attempt to spiff things up for the holiday. It looked great – I loved the decorations, and the fresh coat of paint on everything was nice and clean – but the new lines, and the police officers enforcing the use of the lines, made the bus even more confusing. Not only was the normal bus schedule out the window because of the holiday (since when does my last bus reach my village at 5? You’re supposed to leave town at 5), but now I had no idea where I was supposed to catch my bus because there were cones all over the place and certain areas were blocked off…good grief. For the entire week, I spent an awful lot of time hoping my bus was coming and that I hadn’t actually missed it. I had a few close calls, but in the end, I always caught my bus. I hear things have returned to normal now that the holiday is over, but I haven’t been back into town yet to check it out. I need a break from the bus because I’m about ready to throw it over a cliff.

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