Saturday, September 09, 2006

Riding the Bus

Sometimes interesting things happen when Ed, Lucy, and I are riding home from school on the bus. Once an old guy got on and sat down in an empty seat next to Lucy and laid a sword down across everybody's feet. It was a long, silver sword, in a scabbard that had pagodas and dragons and all kinds of things like that carved on it. The Sudanese schoolboy sitting next to me got really excited and asked the guy all kinds of questions about it, but I couldn't figure out what he was saying. Lucy and I just kind of stared at it (Ed was in the back of the bus, so he missed out entirely).

Another time Ed sat next to a woman who was holding her little boy on her lap. Ed made silly faces at the boy to amuse him, until he suddenly realized he was scaring the kid to death.

You have to know how the buses work: you stand on the side of the road and stick out your arm when you see a bus coming. If they have space for you, they stop. You climb on and sit down, and once the bus is speeding merrily on its way, the guy who stands at the door comes around tapping two coins together, your signal to pay up. Everybody pays the same amount, 30 dinar, which is tiny, maybe 15 American cents. Then you sit back and relax until you see the place you want to get off, at which point you snap your fingers loudly at the man by the door. He makes a "sst-ssst" noise at the driver, who pulls over at the side of the road to let you hop off.

So we'd been riding the bus for a week or so, when doormen started asking us for more money. We usually give a 100-dinar note, and expect 10 dinar back in change. But now when we gave the guy the bill, he'd say, "Give me two," in Arabic. We thought we were being charged a "khawaja tax" (the African tendency to double the price at the sight of foreigners), and refused. Later, though, we asked around at school, and it turns out that the price has gone up. Instead of 30 dinar per person, now it's 40. And the doormen weren't asking for 2 bills, they were asking for 20 dinar more. I feel clueless, that the only way we have to find out whether or not the price has risen is to ask the other expats we know.

One time, when the bus was stopped at an intersection, I was looking out my window when a 6 or 7 year old boy in another vehicle stuck his head out his window, caught my eye, and made a "you're not the boss of me" face. Zing.


CuracaoChick said...

Sounds adventurous. I think I'd be scared to death, but I think I'd probably get used to it eventually.

Nathan said...

What happened when you refused to pay? Did they boot you off the bus?

Annette said...

Nope. They just let them ride.

Ruth said...

actually, they made jokes at our expense in arabic. then they just let us ride.