Tuesday, March 4, 2008

7 rams later

People often ask me why I don’t go to our regional/transit house more often. I try to explain to them that it’s not just because I’m 200K away, that’s not the problem. From the next town over, if I can get a station wagon, and the car doesn’t break down, we don’t get stopped by the gendarmes, and barring all other major disasters, the trip usually only takes about 3 ½ hours door to door. Those are the good days, and they are rare.

Around Tabaski (muslim holiday in December) when I was leaving for Italy, I had the quintessential Senegalese public transport experience, which will help me illustrate why I try to stick around the Matam area as much as possible. If I need a night away, I prefer to just pay for a night at a hotel in air conditioning rather than make the trek to the regional house. This is why…

7:30 AM
I left the compound as soon as the sun was bright. I made the 20 minute walk to the garage with my bags and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a station wagon available that morning (we call them “7 places”, meaning there should be 7 passengers including the driver. They are about the size of a Subaru Outback…but not nearly as luxurious, and they “hold” 8 full grown people, plus bags, no shocks, little ventilation, and various other discomforts). So I was thrilled because I could get this car directly to the regional house and not have to stop in the next big town over and change cars (which is usually the case).

6 passengers on board, one to go. #7 shows up. I think “Great! Let’s be on our way!” No way I’d be that lucky. Because what does this guy have as baggage??
Not 1, not 2, not even 5….No ladies and gentlemen, he brings with him 7 FULL SIZED LIVE RAMS!! Yep, you read that correctly, Rams, as in grown male sheep. Not puny little baby goats, full-sized rams that come up to my waist, with horns and all. I’m just standing there, my mouth open, staring and shaking my head “no way! There is no way they are going to fit 7 rams, 8 people and all our bags in this car. No way!”
I should know by now to have more faith in “max capacity transport situations.”

The men (of which there is always an abundance at the garage, sitting around idly looking for something to do, or watch, or anything really to stave off boredom) finally pack all of our bags in the back of the car. It is absolutely crammed full of our bags (which is why I unfortunately don’t have a picture of the whole thing).

Now they start to tackle the rams. Normally livestock are tied up and then stuffed into empty rice sacks to help cut down on the urine and feces that fall on us through the window (though if you’ve been following my blog since the beginning, you know that they are not very effective). But this time there were no rice sacks. I’m sure you clever people can imagine what’s going to happen later as a result.

Somehow, an hour later, we are on our way. This is the text message I sent out to a fellow PCV
“What do you get when you cross 7 full-grown Wolof men, 7 rams, and 1 astounded toubak? Answer: the contents of my 3.5 hour (inchallah) 7place ride.”

I have been shit on 2x during the 23K drive to the next town that I mistakenly thought we’d be able to bypass.

Reminder: It’s now been 4 hours since I left my hut and I’ve only traveled 23K. Tremendous.

We stop at the garage in the next big town. And what do we do? The men UNLOAD all 7 rams while the owner goes and buys 7 rice sacks. Then they reload them into the sacks, and back onto the roof. Meanwhile, I am in a state of total helplessness and disbelief at the fact that we have all paid the same amount of money to ride in this car and yet the rest of us have now wasted almost 2 hours for this guy’s posse of livestock!

Rams in sacks, people packed back inside. We take off…again.

We stop for gas. Except there isn’t any at this particular GAS station.

We stop at the next gas station and fill up.

Surprise! We stop again. Why? So one of the men can greet a friend and pick up his cell phone!? Are you kidding me? Last time I checked we weren’t in this car to run personal errands. But apparently I was mistaken.

Arrive at regional house.

For those of you keeping count that’s 7:30AM-3PM, 7 ½ hours it took me to travel 200K or 125 miles.

When I told this story to an ex-marine he said to me,
“Cait…in all seriousness, I’ve been tortured, and I can honestly say I’d choose it any day over that.”

That definitely made me feel a little better. At least after the fact.

In the words of my dad,
“Cait, I never thought I’d say this, but among my children, you are the one who will make it closest to any kind of military training.”

The best part about this story though is that I did not lose my cool. I remained calm, plugged into my Ipod, and buried in my book. Maybe if I was more culturally integrated I’d have been able to laugh and chat with the men as we waited, but I’m pretty proud of myself for not losing my mind, and exercising the Peace Corps mantra of Patience and Flexibility.

And if nothing else, now I know what the maximum capacity of a station wagon really is!


Wendy said...

Absloutely hilarious. You can't make this stuff up. I hope you plan to write a book someday.

Caitlin said...

Yes true, these little "life anecdotes" will hopefully make me a more sought after dinner party guest! They are funny...after the fact. Still wanna come visit?? :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think the maximum capacity of a station wagon is 15 people inside and 5 on top plus baggage, based on my experience in Guinea a few weeks ago. But I still don't envy you your ram experience. At least you got a good story out of it. :) -Rebecca