|Getting a Lift|
It’s the nature of African buses that they don’t go until they’re full. I’m with three other westerners. We have seen all we want to of the historic town of Djenne and more to the point we want to get on with the day’s travelling before the day gets too hot. It’s Friday, the day of prayers; things are quiet. Three locals have also bought tickets and together the seven of us wait for a 22 seater to fill up. It’s 11:00am. Perhaps after the mosque empties at 2:00pm, maybe 3:00pm we can go? After a while a nine seater Peugeot arrives and joins the back of the queue of hopeful PSVs. The westerners consider hiring it privately. We’re not sure if they will refund our tickets, but time is money, we’re only in Mali for a few days. I ask the marshal how long before we will go. I suggest it’s a long time to wait. I ask if we can hire the Peugeot. I know my nine times table, we agree a price. Divided by four we decide to take it. To my astonishment the marshal deducts what we’ve already paid him, better still. So we’ll be off then? Not so fast buddy. The Peugeot driver’s gone walkabout. The three remaining passengers get wind of what we’re doing. They will have to wait even longer. They implore me to let them come with us. I’m not sure of the etiquette; I don’t want to start a fight between drivers. My western companions are impatient, "we’re paying for the whole vehicle, let’s just go. Let’s not wait for any further discussion or loading of luggage".
By the time the driver returns we have the other three on board and their fares in my pocket. In theory there are two more places but only a local eye would find them; the car is comfortably full. Trying not to feel too smug we drive out of town. Knowing things are rarely so straightforward I try to anticipate the unforeseen. Perhaps the ferry we need to cross the river has stopped for prayers? But no, it’s even waiting on our side of the river. We drive straight onto it. At the junction with the main road we say a final farewell to Cliff and Sue who are heading south and pick up three more locals. More fares in my pocket. I think we’ve broken even. Marvellous. An open road ahead, what can possibly delay us now? After a while we stop to take on several bags of charcoal and firewood for the driver and one of locals but it doesn’t take too long and we're soon on our way again. Then we got a puncture.
After hours of waiting at the bus station and a few more hours sitting in the car my first thought is relief, a "comfort break" as they call it in business circles. Then I find out we have no jack. The sun is hot and there is no shade; we're in the middle of nowhere. The locking nuts are undone and the spare wheel unhitched. We are all summoned to help and without thinking strain ourselves to lift the car so the driver can pull the deflated tyre off the hub. Of course we have to lift the car body even higher to put the replacement wheel on and then we fail to do it for long enough to get the wheel firmly against the hub. We are so caught up in following instructions, beads of sweat rolling down our faces that it doesn’t occur to any of us that it would be easier if we offloaded the car first. I’m not sure how easily I can lift one 90kg bag of charcoal, let alone the rest of our load. Anyway, as luck would have it, another PSV arrives and lends us their jack. The wheel is changed successfully and safely and we reach Mopti in time for sunset.
|Getting a Lift|