It’s a Toyota hatchback. Always a hatchback it seems. Me and seven others. Seven “healthy” others (aka obese). Children don’t count, so more can fit if kids are piled inside. Thick hips and thighs crush together, one sits forward and three sit back. Armpit at my head, one arm thrown behind the next passenger too. No one needs to know anatomy to realize that there is a nerve on the outside of the calf. Pressed firmly against the door, or the neighbor’s leg, every time the one leg is numb when we finally arrive. Today is no exception to the norms.
The driver hangs out the window to allow one more passenger (or obtain one more fare). He swerves around potholes and people, beeps his horn. Oftentimes, though not today, he is obviously inebriated, as the odor of alcohol wafts toward us through the wind blowing through the open window. We pass police check, one after the next. He gives them a coin so they turn their eyes from the long list of obvious illegalities. And then we pass on through.
He drops us at the taxi area, where we scatter, each into another hatchback or mini-bus. It is the same routine. Finally, I get dropped at the bus station. My ticket says “VIP, 8:30am”. But VIP may be misleading. It means you have an assigned seat, and the bus should leave on time. “On time” is sometime before 9am, and it is much better than the non-VIP bus, which only leaves after every single crevice and crack is filled with human cargo.
I’m in seat 3. Seat 2 has a skinny guy, but yet he leans halfway over into my seat. My thigh, my shoulder, they each touch his. I lean deeply into the window. “Thank You God for the window”. Seat 2 only shifts more, making himself more comfortable. I am the only passenger who recognizes the idea of personal space. So, I silence any complaint, knowing that the culture here currently rules over my own preferences. I’ve come to find that the inner thigh is really the only place that one can call their own on public transport. Every other place is public. Buttocks are shifted, one person on the next, babies are halfway on your lap, pushing against your breasts. Feet are entangled. Yep, the only part that I get to keep is my inner thigh. But thank God I get at least one part.
The bus moves slowly, up the winding hills. In spite of the uncomfortable seating, the driver is safe and cautious, partially because the bus’s steady, slow limit of acceleration. I listen to music, singing out the window, finding opportunity to worship with the engine muffling the sound of my words. Deep, thick black smoke blows on us from the unmaintained semi-truck, painfully pulling its load in front of us. The bellows out of the engine rush into the window, and I cease my song for a moment.
After a while, we come to a stop. Suddenly swarms of hands shove bananas, plantains, roasted corn, coke bottles (filled with something that is not any official coke product), bush meat creatures – resembling armadillos, furry rats with long tails, and sometimes a small deer or monkey. The sellers envelop the bus, each passenger buys the desired items, and the bus begins to move. As the tires roll dangerously close, the sellers are forced to retreat from the hope of a day’s wages. I smell the curled, dried fish that some passenger bought, and it pushes me further out the window.
But no matter. I smile, grateful for the chance to ride. The smoke and fish, the drawn out slow pull up the hills, the uncomfortable skin on skin – they are all noticed but not concerning. My eyes are set ahead, looking forward to the hope of coming things. Glad to see the rearview mirror looking at the past, things truly behind. Last time I took this one-way trip with a paid hospital car, I received a bill for $450. That was on the day that I arrived. Today, I return for a $10 charge. Lessons learned along the way (many important ones - one just practical one was how to save about $450). Eyes now wide open to realities, some of which were much more romantic while hidden. And yet, also opened to the graciousness and provision of God seen both personally and through my patients.
I praised Him through the difficult days on those beautiful, hard mountains with the hospital nestled between them. I praise Him now on this windy road, uncomfortable, but hopeful. And I am learning to praise Him at all times, though perfection of that may be beyond sight, far off in the distant haze. I am reminded of the constancy of God in the midst of varying circumstances, of time and place. He calls for heart worship through them all. And the worthiness of the One who calls is constant and unchanging.