One of the questions I receive often as a PCV is “What do you do in an average day?” I am still not sure how the respond to this question. Most people are looking for a 9-5 schedule which is why this week’s prompt (sharing an typical day) for Blogging Abroad’s blog boot camp challenge made me nervous.
Here is the thing: one year in the country and I do not have a typical day or routine. Yes there are certain tasks I complete everyday (I maintain my hygiene and go to work) but South Africa loves to keep me on my toes and challenge my perceptions of “schedule” and “efficiency.” My average days are composed of several atypical events. When in rural KwaZulu-Natal, you relinquish control to South Africa’s will. My type A personality is one of my agitation prevention strategies back in the states, and it is accurate to call South Africa great exposure therapy on my end.
Since sharing a 9-5 working day is not accurate, I decided to share a common theme on Eish: outside forces hilariously skewing my attempts to create routine in South Africa.. There has been a dominant theme in my service of animals altering the course of my day from depriving me of sleep, invading my house, and nearly infiltrating the workplace. My first day at the office in Amajuba a goat actually came into the office and chickens strut into my host family’s kitchen once a day. The other category is transport.
I have been asked to participate in a PCSA training this week, and last Monday I made the trip to the Gauteng Province. Getting up to Gauteng is fairly straight forward from my area. There is an expensive Greyhound bus that can take your from Pretoria. Duke City is a transportation hub and has buses that take you directly to Johannesburg. The PCSA office is in Pretoria which is accessible through the Gautrain (the neat pun of a train system for the Gauteng province) which stops in Hatfield (the area with PCSA approved backpackers).
Sunday evening created an unusual start to Monday. I was trying to pack when the local electrician unexpectedly showed up and did not want to wait another week for much needed repairs. Honestly I agreed this was urgent as another bird flew in Friday night and caused a few wires to spark. Still it was two hours of packing time that I could not use, and by the time he finished an Amajuba thunderstorm commenced. I woke up at 3:30 AM to finish packing and cleaning the house (which now had puddles from roof leaks). I left the house at 6:05 AM, running on less than 6 hours of sleep.
Ready to take on the transport, with enough luggage to help me navigate whatever adventure SA wants to pitch.
The taxi ride to Duke City that morning was uneventful and stopped conveniently in front of the Joberg bound bus. We waited 30 minutes for the bus to fill and after 4 ambiguous stops we made it out of Duke City. I was sitting in the front row with a 3 person seat, with the other 2 seats occupied by 3 children. A woman gently plopped the children down in Duke City, pushed a Tupperware container in the eldest boy’s hands and left. The 2 boys and 1 girl shared my pastime of landscape watching. After eating the entire chicken enclosed in Tupperware, they started to peer over the seats to see the view. The little girl was short and could not see above the seat. I put down my book and offered to have her sit on my lap. She obliged, watched the scenery for 15 minutes and then fell asleep for an hour. I will never get tired of having kids using me as a cot for long bus rides.
My seat neighbors
Around 8, we stop in a town called Vrede in the middle of the Free State. Vrede was surrounded by aesthetically pleasing green foliage that was overshadowed by the harsh divide between the township and the residential houses with electric fences separated by a mere street. I was grateful that this stop was only 10 minutes…so I thought. The little girl woke up once we reached Vrede and slid back into the seat.
We pull out of Vrede and chug over the cumbersome hills that define the Free State’s stereotypical geography. 10 minutes after we left Vrede, the bus slows to a crawling pace. For two minutes I watch the attendant sift through an empty cooler and wonder why the bus is going slow. Then I received a hint when liquid suddenly spurts in a mini-geyser with a brown tint and splashes the children in my seat and 2 seated right next to the driver in the face. It takes a second to remember that there is no toilet on the bus so my initial guess of sewage is incorrect. Once the bus gently rolls to a stop, steam started to pour through the geyser, indicating that the engine overheated.
While the drivers tended to the engine, I surveyed my surroundings. I managed to dodge the spray but the children next to me were hit and the girl sitting in front of the engine was covered in water droplets. Thankfully the petrol did not mix with the liquid projectiles and everyone’s eyes were okay. The children are responding to my inquiries saying they are okay even though their skin is embossed with the engine’s wrath. To address their discomfort, I gave Kleenex to my neighbors me and the young girl in front of the engine that was drenched. I moved the little girl back on my lap who wiped a dirt spot off of my leg
Sure enough another bus heading in the opposite direction arrived after 5 minutes and passed a cool drink/soda bottle filled with water, which they poured directly down the engine. We start to move and the attendant calls the bus company. 5 minutes after we started to move the attendant makes an announcement starting with Siyaxolisa/we are sorry. The passengers are up in arms and I cannot hear his one minute so I ask for clarification in isiZulu that we are still going to Jo-berg but we need to go back to Vrede to get another bus. The man confirms, I say Ngiyabonga/thank you calmly and he responds to the bus “See, the mulungu/white person understands what is going on.”
And before anyone applauds my isiZulu skills, on the ride back to Vrede, one of the boys seated next to me is still peering over the seat in the line of fire. I say in English, “I would put your head down if I were you, I am smelling gas.” He complied. The one isiZulu words I know in that sentence are “head” and “down.” Clearly I need to work on my isiZulu vocabulary for potentially dangerous situations and resist my temptation to squawk in English when the situation is urgent.
Waiting in Vrede for the new bus
In the end we waited for 30 minutes back in Vrede and the got us a new bus. The two men who facilitated Vrede’s bus stop saw me (the palest person on the bus) found out I was a foreigner, and thanked me for my patience. They also explained that the engine was leaking and they could not let us head all the way to Joberg. Sometimes safety is not prioritized in South African transport and it is nice to have companies look after their passenger’s well-being. Especially because this was the discount/140 ZAR ride to Joberg.
Morals of the Story: It pays to remain calm and not to panic, I still got to Gauteng in plenty of time, and most importantly….
South Africa is never boring.