Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The garage

PC administration tells us that most PCV’s either have their breakdowns at the bank, or at the internet café. I find that hard to believe. I think that if ever a breakdown is going to happen, it will be at the garage. The garage is where you go for “public transport.” I usually end up dealing with it once a week so that I can trek the 23K to the nearest town to have internet. I’m going to try my best to describe it to you all.

Firstly, it is run by young, usually 20 or 30 somethings mostly Wolof (so they are typically more aggressive) men. Walking into the compound, groups of them will bombard you and ask “Topa daa?” (“where are you going?”). And once you’ve cleared that group another couple of them will repeat the same thing. And I am almost always asked where or who my husband is and if I want a Senegalese one. And when I explain that I do NOT want one, I am bombarded with questions until I can prove my conviction.

You stuff yourself onto a bus, or a minibus, or whatever brokedown vehicle is hopefully going to get you there on time and then you wait. You wait until it is SO full you can’t even believe it will run. More often then not the windshield is busted. It is usually decorated to the max.

Children run up beside the car and ask you to buy water “Ndiam…ndiam!” Women beg you to buy bananas, peanuts, mangos, anything and everything that they are selling. Carts and trays and bags of things are shoved in your face, in the hopes that one whiff of food will convince you to buy their product.

As the car fills up and we all sit there, little Talibe boys come up beside the car and start to sing. They chant something in Arabic that I can’t understand and they wait for some poor soul to give them 50 CFA (about 10 cents). And they will stand there and sing and wait until the car literally pulls away with them hanging on until the last second. Sometimes I just can’t stand it and I give them whatever change I have, but that never solves the problem, because then he will go and tell his friends that the toubak is giving out money and the next one comes and starts to sing. It is a lose-lose situation.

But that is not how it always happens.

Sometimes the car takes off right away and no one has the time to sell me anything. And those are those blissful moments when I count my lucky stars and hope that we won’t stop too much on the way.

Inevitably there are goats attached to the roof, and men hanging off the back and you are stuffed in between “Smelly McSmellerson” and you have to just grin and bear it as you pull at the sweaty clothes on your back.

But it’s still totally overwhelming.

I have found that the best remedy is to find that “zen place.” That zen “garage” place. Where yes, you are miserable, and you have a 6 hour bus ride ahead of you, and the old man in the grand boo boo is sleeping on your shoulder and he smells to high heaven, and your feet are asleep, but you are moving. Moving is key to keeping your sanity.

The worst is when we stop.

Sometimes you can’t tell why you’re delayed. You can’t see beyond the next person to see what is going on and you have to assume that it is to pick up another passenger. But often it is just to greet, or to stop for a random gendarmie and bribe him into an oblivion.
Sometimes it’s to fix a flat, or to replace a transmission. Cars breakdown all the time. Today for instance, we didn’t have any technical difficulties, but I had planned on arriving early to town to have the day with other volunteers. I arrived at the garage in my town at 8:15am. We left the garage (aka. The car filled up) at 9:15am. Then it took us Almost an hour to drive 23k.

This is why the garage is an absolute test in patience.

But sometimes I can step aside and smile and watch women throw the babies on their back and tie them securely and walk away confidently carrying a rice sack atop their elegant, elongated necks, with another toddler by the hand and I think to myself…
I can get through this. It’s just a car ride.


Anonymous said...

I had a recent memory that will give you something to think about during those times you need to go to your happy place....
mama idyllwild n'est pas tres aimable."
i love you shmait.

William said...

My breakdown was at the bank.