We decided to save a bit of money in returning to Bamako, and took a bus from Mopti instead of a plane. The scheduled 8 hour bus ride turned into an 11 hour bus ride, due to stops taken and crowds of people swarming the vehicle selling lemons and meat as we drove through one village or another.
In its prime, the bus must have been extravagant with its nicely cushioned seats and working air conditioning. But its prime ended long ago, leaving us sitting on well used seats next to sealed windows with dusty drapes. The only source of air circulation came from the two emergency roof exits which were propped open a few inches.
When our names were called, allowing us on the bus, the front seats near the first emergency roof exit were all occupied - mostly by tourists. So we moved to the back, namely due to the second emergency roof exit, but also because the back was completely empty. We thought we were clever in our decision, when in fact, we couldn't be more wrong.
There was a reason the tourists piled in at the front, which stayed clean the entire trip and was never full of commotion. Unfortunately we didn't understand that reason until it was too late. Instead, we reveled in the fact that we were receiving the true African bus riding experience.
Many empty seats were soon filled after we sat down; the remaining ones were taken at a stop a few miles into our journey. There was chaos all around as people piled on the bus with large bags of goods and babies hanging off shoulders. The heat was stifling and the space was cramped, so emotions were high. But once settled it was as though a magic switch was flipped- the entire bus, babies and small children included, were absolutely silent.
Maybe it was the heat, it left everyone in a comatose state with only enough energy to sleep, not even to talk. Reading, if one is literate, was even done in spurts as the heat became overwhelming and made eyelids too heavy to bear. The only noise during the long hot hours as the bus drove through the countryside was that of a women seated next to us, whom we presume has Tuberculosis, coughing and spitting into a small bucket.
At each stop everyone was rejuvenated, and our fellow back-of-the-bus neighbors would buy the lemons or meat that were sold. The energy would stay alive for 10 to 15 minutes while the bus carried on and our neighbors ate, dropping lemon peels on the ground, or spitting undesired meat into the aisle-ways.
Absorbing everything as I sat, unable to do much else, I laughed to myself at the rawness of it all. That rawness could be a major contributor of my love of Africa. I feel a bit of heartache when I leave and a longing to return back soon, even amid or perhaps because of the poverty, filth, humility, simplicity and extreme exertion spent on every day survival.
That said, I only felt relief when leaving the bus once we finally returned to Bamako. I hopped up at the first opportunity and made my way outside to breathe in the nice, cool, exhaust filled air. Five minutes later Bremen joined me. When he explained his delay, all I could do was laugh and again comment on my love for Africa. Apparently he didn't find navigating around vomit that a little girl in front of him spewed all over the aisle way as funny as I did though.