“Roll!” “Pick she up” “Yeah…” “Vreed-en-Hoop/New Road!” “One mo, one alone, meh need one mo!”
These are the cries of the conductors and drivers of the buses in Guyana. Anywhere you go, you hear these short but very distinct shouts. You also hear the familiar kissing noises of those same conductors trying to get your attention. It works, believe me it works. It’s the operation of the public busing system here. It’s a glorious symphony of noises, actions, and people. The bus pulls up to it’s designated spot. Out jumps the conductor, sliding the door on the left side as he does. “Sis! Ya goin’ Berbice? Meh got special price fah ya, sis. Come, we leave jus now!” The conductor starts his (or her, very rarely her, but sometimes it is a ‘her’) salesman bought. It is usually some compliment to a passerby, some offer to take the bags they are holding and help them to the bus, or the promise of a smooth ride with a bus that leaves in the next 5 minutes. These are all most likely lies. But smooth lies they are…and wonderful tactics to draw the crowds in. And it’s not just one conductor, but about 10 or 15 in one area, all manning a bus, all working hard for the little money they’ll get at the end of a long, hot day. And all those conductors are shouting the same thing, at the same time, to the same one person in hopes that you’ll choose their bus and their bus will fill up faster. The faster the bus fills up, the faster you leave. That’s the trick to leaving fast. Get on a bus that’s already 50% or more full. You’ll leave within that 5 minutes the other conductor promised you 7 buses back.
The bus is full now, and you’re already sweating, beads down your back and on your nose and upper lip. You’re crammed in with 14 other people now, not including the conductor, the driver or the two people in the front seat. They want one more. A lady with a market bag gets on the bus and you suddenly wonder where the conductor is going to sit. No worries, they cram the lady next to the person in front of you saying, “Bai, gimmie a lil’ squeeze, na”. Somehow the guy closest to the window scoots one millimeter to the right and all four people fit in one seat, comfortably. The conductor slides the door close and leans halfway out the window, still kissing at any passing pedestrians. The driver honks his horn, made to sound like a trumpet that plays 5 notes over and over until it fades out. He’s alerting the other drivers that he’s coming and they shouldn’t pull out in front of him. I’ll have to write about the horn system later. Off we go. Breeze flows in through the open windows, and you can breathe a sigh of relieve for the breeze that instantly cools you and everyone around you off. Now you just have to keep watch for your stop. Be vigilant. Hold onto your bags. Have your money or your change ready. Here it comes now…ready? “Conducta!” He turns his head. “Corner comin’ up!”… “Corner comin’ up!”, he yells to the driver. The lady in front of you sucks her teeth. This means she has to move to let you out. Oh well, let her suck her teeth in frustration. The bus shrieks to a stop. The conductor slides open the door, the lady in front of you gets out, leaving you 2 inches to get out yourself and pay the man who spends his life in the wind. You pay, collect your change and the bus takes off with you still standing there gathering your bearings… the sliding door closing as the bus gains speed.
Let me explain something to you…in Guyana, oh wonderful Guyana, to get around you MUST take a “cyar”, “bus”, or “tapier” unless you have your own vehicle, bike, or motorcycle. Being a PCV, most walk to where they’re going if it’s within a mile or two or you take one of the three public transportation vehicles; this is because no volunteer drives due to complicated rules and policies so that includes a car or motorcycle. From personal experience, I say take a car/”cyar” (ke-yar), it’s less people to deal with and it’s more comfortable than squeezing into a tapier or a bus, but it’s sometimes more expensive. But enough about the logical parts of travel, for now, I speak purely about the system.
Here in the land of Guyanese people, things are done slightly differently. This would be an obvious deduction of any foreigner visiting, but for the Peace Corps Volunteer, you take on this world because it is your life for two years, give or take, and it doesn’t seem so different to you after so many months. I, for one, am personally impressed with the busing system here. It’s more of a glorified hitch-hiking system, but still, it’s got some really unique points to it. ‘I’m a little foggy about this busing system you speak of Lindsay, can you explain more?’ Well sure!
Picture this: You come out of your house and it’s 8:20am. You have to be at work by 9:00 the latest. You live a total of 30 minutes away from work and it looks like it’s going to be sunshine all the way. Think you’ll make it? Well normally we’d be inclined to say, duh! But here, you’re pushing it. You’ll make it, but only by the hair of your chinny-chin-chin. Every morning I wake up around 6:00 or 6:30. This is late by Guyanese standards. Whatever. I wake up, shower, make breakfast and lunch (yes, I’m a planner now… shocking I know), and get ready for school. I pack whatever I need to get through the day and make sure I’ve got my money ready, my keys in hand, my cell phone charged and in my purse, and my bottle of water. I head out to the road. Lucky for me, I live right on the main road. This means I could potentially catch a ride to the next drop off point within minutes, or it could mean that every living being passes me by within a 15 minute period. Confused? Just wait.
I stand at the end of the driveway and wave my hand in a nonchalant manner, so as not to give anyone the wrong impression. Buses will pass and the driver points in one direction, the conductor leans out the window and kisses at me. No, he doesn’t want to date me (although I do get proposed to at least once a week if not more), he wants to know if I need a ride to Georgetown. No, I’m not going there…I need to get to the junction. He drives on. A car pulls up. “Miss, you go de junction?” “Yes, you goin’ deh?” “Yes, Miss.” I am called ‘Miss’ because I am a teacher. I get in the back seat. Today I’ll be wedged in between two other people about my size (not large, but in a small car, we seem giants) and in the front seat will be two people. Hey, gotta get the most amount of fare, right?
At the junction, we all pile out, each paying $60, the price for a short drop. I walk to another part of the junction and stand for what seems forever. “Good Fortune, Miss?” “No, Patentia” “No, meh nah go dat far”… “LaGrange, Miss?” “No, Patentia” “No, meh nah go deh”… “Patentia, Miss?” “Yes!” My wait is over. I’m in another car, this time next to the worst smelling person I’ve ever met…or will meet for the day. Oh, it looks like he smells because of the bucket of fish he’s holding. Guess I’ll meet another person who actually smells like fish and isn’t carrying a bucket later. Joy. The ride is long. Yes, I live 30 minutes away, but we stop and go. You see, how the system works is people get picked up and dropped off everywhere especially if you are taking public transportation. It’s much like the busing system in bigger cities, ie Chicago. But instead of scheduled stops where you know where the bus is going, people just yell out where they’re going. One minute you’re sitting with 4 other people, the next you’re sitting with 4 new people and in the span of 10 minutes those 4 new people have changed 2 times. Each fare is different, $60 for a short drop, $80 to pass the river, $100 to get over the bridge, and $120 to get to Patentia, my drop. It only took 40 minutes today. Good timing! I’m 5 minutes late. No matter…I’m the first one here, aside from all the kids. But school starts at 9:00am, right? Right. ‘Just now…’