The Bus Trip
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, we took a bus from Nairobi, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda which lasted twice as long as it was supposed to – instead of taking 12 hours, it took 24. Why did it take so long? Let’s see. First, one of the bus’s side mirrors broke and it took about 2 hours to fix it. Second, a mechanical problem with the bus became apparent so it could take us no further. It took about 4 hours for a new bus to come. Third, the bus came to an extremely muddy road (submerged in water at some points) that it couldn’t get through. How did this problem get solved you ask? Why, by transferring all the passengers and their luggage onto another bus that could get through, of course! So we found ourselves on yet another bus (in much worse condition than the previous two no less!). Well, there you have it. These delays, together with some other minor ones lengthened our trip by twice its intended duration.
I’m slightly embarrassed to write about how I coped with some of these inconvenient situations. I may or may not have borrowed another passenger’s phone to call the owner of the bus company on more than once occasion. My coping strategies ranged from calling the owner to forcing myself to sleep until the journey was finally over, whether the bus was moving or not. Either way, it was clear that these inconveniences were a significant bother to me. Even when I thought I was hiding my frustration, other passengers would say comments to me along the lines of: “Don’t stress, we’ll get there soon enough”, or “Hakuna matata; don’t worry, be happy”! Embarrassing, right?
So, what did I learn from all of this? A few things, but the most impactful thing for me was that, without exception, the local passengers didn’t seem too bothered by the whole ordeal. They just accepted it. After complaining to a passenger with a young baby, she simply said: “Yes, this is disappointing”, and that was it! At one point she asked me for pain killers because she had a terrible headache, but she still didn’t complain. Afterwards, when I was trying to ask for compensation from the bus company in Kampala, the workers there pointed out to me that I was the only one asking for compensation. “This is Africa,” they told me. At that point, I began to tear up. Not from the frustration of spending the past 24 hours of my life on a cramped bus (okay, that may have contributed to it), but from the frustration that people didn’t seem to expect better. The mentality that “this is Africa” and that I shouldn’t expect certain rights as a customer drove me crazy. I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m sure Kenyans and Ugandans have good reasons for not expecting better. Perhaps they don’t expect better because they’ve never had better. Perhaps they do expect better, but their energies are devoted to more relevant areas of their lives. Perhaps they’ve even demanded better but have given up after repeatedly failing to achieve better. Or…perhaps this is all in my head and they’re just extremely patient. Either way, after reflecting on this experience, I’ve decided to pray that Ugandans can achieve a society where citizens and consumers expect their rights to be upheld, and that I can become more patient.