Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rough Riding- Burmese Bus Travel

The rain abates. Heavy tires leave grooves in the muddy road, making our walk to the bus perilous. One of us slips and falls, her clothes sloppily caked in dripping earth and stagnant water. She flaps her arms like a bird, attempting to dislodge the mud, the disgusted look on her face means she’s aware of the smell. I hope she’s not seated near me.

We climb on board and hand our $10 ticket to the bus line employees, who smilingly accept, taking our luggage and piling it atop the back seat, often enduring the long, bumpy rides seated nearby, the suitcases precariously piled around them.
We wait for a couple more passengers to fill out the bus, pushing back our departure. What’s a little time in Burma?
a local bus in Burma
At last our bus leaves the station, slowly sliding around the mud, like a mammoth in a tar pit trying to regain its footing. I sway side to side as though on a boat, reminding me how easily sea sick I get. I try to close my eyes, but am buzzed by fighter jets flying overhead- malarial mosquitoes, zeroing on in their next target.
I’m focused now; one goal- kill the enemy. A mosquito flies just out of reach; I jump up and slap my hands together causing half of the bus to rotate their heads towards the sound’s emanation, gaining witness to the furious war taking place around them. I examine my weapons and find them stained with fresh blood from my slain adversary’s last meal. I proudly show my conquest to those around me, their Herculean protector, this vampire shall not feed again! … There are no applause.

I sit back down, disenchanted by the lack of appreciation for my heroics. Nevertheless, I remain resolved I shall not be bitten. I'm alert, awaiting my opportunity to strike as these blood thirsty parasitic abominations circle in formation, calculating coordinates for their next run.

A poor man’s speaker system distorts the shrieks of actors at jet engine decibels, as a movie plays on the flat-screen upfront. Their one noted over-acting would earn them an instant rejection from any Los Angeles based casting agent. We’re an hour into the movie and the actors haven’t broken once from their action of screaming at one another. I find this at odds with the peaceful and soft spoken people I have met in this country. I decide the movie must be Chinese.
A half hour later, the shrieking momentarily stops as the movie is rewound and begins anew. I groan, but no one can hear me over the yelling.

Our bus bravely plods down the unpaved road, lurching from side to side, sliding down the face of potholes large enough left to have been left by some ancient collision with an asteroid. Nauseous, sea sick, my stomach is in rebellion, I’m about to heave any second.
At the last moment, our bus stops. We scurry from the beast's belly. While everyone else takes in dinner, I sit by the side of the road, looking into the sheer darkness ahead, trying to regain some semblance of balance, trying to let the wave of nausea wash away.

Twenty minutes later we board again. People around me begin to doze off. I too, try to close my eyes, to no avail. The bus jolts, throwing me from my seat. I readjust myself and curl my body into a fetal position, attempting to give myself a fighting chance against the air conditioner which has suddenly kicked into overdrive.

Snores blare around me of operatic quality, and through their combined effort trump my screaming actor friends I have gotten to know so well as the looped movie starts up for a third time. As if on cue, I’m walloped by a curry laced fart of nuclear capability sending my senses into overload, momentarily blinding me as my body shuts down, a desperate attempt to protect itself from this inhospitable environment. Fight or flight instinct kicks in, but there’s nowhere to run, and no one to fight. Out of vengeance I slap my hands together, attempting to squash an invisible mosquito, but no one can hear my protests above the snores.
At 3 AM we pull into a rest stop, parking alongside 30 other buses, probably the only stop for 50 miles in either direction.
a billboard at our last stop- Burma will be changing quickly!

A couple late night eateries serve weary travellers.  Whitey gets stares as he groggily plods his way to the restroom, scratching the sixty bites he received for the half minute he managed to doze-off.
Hundreds of mosquitoes line the bathroom walls. I regain my sense of self, sending me on a killing spree. Vengeance is temporarily mine! That is, until I return to the U.S. and likely discover I have malaria.
I walk back outside and realize in my zombie like state I have managed to forget which bus I am on. 
I sprint from bus to bus, looking for some clue. I do two laps around the station, not far from panicking. Someone waves at me, recognizing Whitey might be lost. I board my bus, smiling at our friendly driver. “How much longer are you going to play the movie?” I ask.
“Oh, I didn't realize it was even still on,” he replies.
I walk back to my seat. Our driver has dutifully turned off the screaming actors, leaving me only the un-melodic snores of my Burmese friends to keep me company.  I smile, appreciating what my fellow passengers put up with on a daily basis. I really do lead a charmed life.  

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