Friday, March 19, 2010
Going south: false/wishful advertising & laughable logic
This is the bus I took last week from Gulu to Kampala
Scheduled departure: 8:00am
Time I was told I should come to catch the bus: 8:30am
Time I decided to show up (because I think I've learned from experience): 9:30am
Actual departure time: 11:47am
We really miss out if we're too aggravated to laugh at the irony. It reminded me of a similarly long wait for a bus a few years ago. After the wheels finally started moving, the bus made it several blocks before breaking down. We waited for the next bus which also broke down. When the third bus, which finally proved itself road-worthy came, it had a slogan painted across the upper part of the windshield: "God likes patience." The increasingly disgruntled passengers had to laugh in spite of themselves. Waiting patiently is a useful spiritual discipline. So much of life is waiting for something, without exercising it, we spend too much time frustrated and annoyed. There are many opportunities to practice. One little celebration of the road: hundreds of speed humps which have in the past apparently served some often-speculated but little-understood constructive purpose have been removed! I'll have to find something else to practice my Acholi counting skills to pass the hours heading south--but the journey is so much more painless without an hour of jostling over kilometers of bumps.
Proof that I really am learning from experience: I went to the bus park in Kampala early, booked my seat back to Gulu and left my luggage. Exchanged phone numbers with the conductor. "Waited" in a cafe for a couple of hours with a friend. Conductor called me 10 minutes before the bus left, just enough time to clear the bill and boda back to the park. It was great! I highly recommend the strategy.
A new feature of the journey: the police stop the buses at every check point. Ostensibly, this is because they register the bus at each point to regulate speed. At one stop, the inspector boarded the bus in an immaculately cleaned and starched white uniform and black beret. He introduced himself and gave us all his phone number. I still have it in my constant moleskine companion where I quickly tried to write every word he said--his logic was truly dizzying. He marched up and down the aisle of the bus for the next 15 or 20 minutes lecturing the passengers and driver in turn about the perils of speeding, societal ills of corruption, benefits of taxes and healthcare. Well, sort of. "You are bribing us too much!" he shouted. "You have bribed me enough. You're giving me that money and I am eating alone, yet you are the one's who are all dying just because you are in a hurry." He asked passengers if they were satisfied with the speed of the bus since we left Gulu and how we rated the driving of the man behind the wheel. We mumbled a mediocre response. He was driving fine. "You are in a hurry and going fast can end life! Then we catch you and you bribe us with fifty thousand (around $25) but how much is the life of a person worth? It's better if you get a speeding ticket to go to court. Then you pay the government. Then the government will use that money to offer you health care when you are all injured from motor vehicle accidents because of over speeding! You should pay your taxes and go slowly instead of me eating all this money from bribes alone and all of you dying!" He paused, for dramatic effect, I imagine, "Go safely!" He finally finished and the bus responded to this rousing end with a round of applause!
It's not every day a police officer admits to taking bribes and is publicly lauded. But then, no day, is really like any other day.