The night in Bo was full of heavy drumming rain, which finally made me sleep well. I did not get up early, and just took it easy. I finished with packing, and came down with my bag to check out. The lady at the reception helped me hail down a motorbike driver. He was a slender teenage boy, who liked to smile. I sat at the back, the bag in my lap, my hands holding to the end of the seat behind me, the wind and fumes blowing into my face. It was 1000 leones, as usual, but the boy suddenly decided he wanted to get an extra 2000 for the not so big bag. It didn't harm to try and earn some extra. We were both laughing and arguing about it a bit, I said no way, and then I let it rest. Getting off the bike I handed him 2000 for a good start of the day. For a second he wanted to complain, but then looked at me, and in a moment of wordless communication we both knew, he should be happy with the tip, as that was all he was going to get. He waved with a smile, and roared off to pick the many other passengers of the day.
It was around nine o'clock, when I got to the station, and the park was not buzzing, as it had probably been earlier in the morning. They led me toward its end, where poda poda for Zimmi was supposed to be waiting. There were two, one with a couple of people already sitting in it, and the other one of them with no passengers or luggage, a completely empty and a very old poda poda. They didn't want me to think that was the one, I could have changed my mind or something. I immediately knew it was going to be a long wait. The other passengers were yet to come, I was the first one. Maybe one had already left in the early morning. But the good side of it was, that I would get one of the comfortable and soft seats in front, next to the driver. A seat with a view.
So this was going to be a day of observation, contemplation, meditation, when one went within. I set myself into a very tranquil, peaceful state, relaxed, and huddled inside. And then I just watched out of there, thoughts came and went, thoughts about people I saw, about things that had happened to me the day before or earlier, or some time in life. Thoughts travelled, while my body rested. Sometimes it makes certain things in life clearer, sometimes I come to conclusions, and most often not, but sitting like that, doing nothing is just so rare in my everyday western life, it makes it worth travelling for itself. And when I had enough, I could always come back out, socialise, read, or do whatever I wanted. Getting into that state kept me calm, patient, not frustrated one bit, which is very useful for travelling in many African, or other countries, where time has different dimensions than at home.
In other words, I sat at the drive park for four hours and a half, and took in some more life. And what did my wait look like from the outside? I did some writing into my little leather notebook, I took some pictures of children, and some lorries, I had a coke, I watched and listened to the vendors, travelers, and children, I bought some chewing gums and candies, I read a few poems by Samuel Hinton The Road to Kenema I bought in Freetown, I bought a measure cup of peanuts, I talked to some people, who came and left, I bought a 500 Unit Celtel card to call home. I couldn't reach anyone. People were busy back home, on meetings, at work, it was midmorning, they didn't have time to answer the phone. I got myself some bread and cheese, and water for lunch, and then sat down and watched again, and took some pictures. I had another coke, which I never drink at home. We were not leaving until the poda poda was filled to its last capacity, with a huge bulk of luggage tied on the roof.
Finally on the bus, I was seated next to (read together with) a very respectable man. He was well dressed, well mannered, reserved, not starting a conversation with a white lady, he was sharing the seat with, until she decided to talk to him. He was a teacher of Islamic studies at a Freetown College heading home for a visit, to a small village some fifteen miles before Zimmi. On my left side was our driver. I tried to seat properly in my dress, exposing knees in a non-Islamic tradition, which kept being either in the way of the transmission gear or too close to the respectable gentleman's legs on the other side, and my handbag lying on the floor somewhere under my legs as well. That seat was not all for myself after all, which I didn't really expect, but I was still sitting there in the middle like a privileged one, high and straight like a queen gazing into the green horizons.
Our bus driver was an older gentleman, very neat and orderly. I saw him as someone who would deserve to be at home, retired even, and have some comforts of the predictable unadventureous life. He nevertheless took his job seriously. He was very systematic and organised in everything, also in driving, and together with his young assistant they seemed to make quite a compatible couple, being each others opposites. Alhadzji was young and bursting with energy, in a never ceasing positive good mood. He was constantly given orders by our driver. Alhadzji climb on the roof, Alhadzji, open the door, Alhadzji find the tools, and he would always jump enthusiastically with a big grin on his face. Climb on top with such ease, jump on and off the bus while driving at quite a speed with the same ease, and believe me, I have seen many conductors before and after do the same thing, but his skills were acrobatic.
The poda poda was packed with people wanting to reach their destination. It was old (maybe as old as myself), and needed to be handled with a lot of feeling. When we all got (read squeezed) into it in Bo, the poda poda after several attempts didn't start. So, they had it pushed, and that seemed to help. Hmm, not a good way to start a long journey into the bush, I thought. A few kilometers out of Bo the poda poda broke down. It was the clutch. Some of us had to get out, the driver calmly got a bag of tools and a blanket, lay down under it, and fixed it in some fifteen minutes with Alhadjzi's assistance.
I had a look at the passengers. Noone complained, we all understood this was the state of things for the time being, it was noone's fault, at least not among us. We were of all ages, including a very small baby girl. Well, only she took the liberty to cry every now and then. I was a bit worried we wouldn't make it to our final destination, but my concern was again uneccesary.
And it didn't take long for all of us to discover, that the poda poda had a life of its own. The engine stopped, whenever we started driving in low gear. When there were holes in the road, or if we were in the middle of a flooded road, the motor went off. Our driver kept reigniting successfully. I was sitting next to the driver, so I could see the state of the gear handle, the difficulties he had with shifting. He had a special way of doing it, very gently and precisely.
I will never forget this poda poda. Most of the others I travelled with broke down once on the way, and they were also fixed one way or another. But this one was like a living being. It had a life of its own. It actually seemed to have a human soul, as it sometimes hapens to very old cars. The best thing about it: it had its own voice, it honked and hooted uncontrollably every once in a while, while the driver unsuccessfully tried to stop it turning the steering wheel, hitting on it, or sometimes somewhere underneath it. The hooting actually became quite regular towards the end of the journey, and nothing seemed to help. We came driving through the villages hooting, many waved at us. It reminded me on political delegations driving through our city, with police cars blaring and making way for the big black Mercedes cars hiding very important men, presidents and such. Well, on a smaller scale I guess, that's a bit how we felt.
The vehicle was pushed on the raft, and they got it across manually by pulling along a rope from one side to another. The passengers sat on the edge, and around it. I talked to a nice lady passenger I noticed, because she was wearing a T-shirt with a sign “Women take action, otherwise you are going to stay poor!”. She was a Liberian refugeee, many residing in this area, as we were close to the Liberian border. She was a teacher in Liberia, and now she was just a refugee with no regular job. Hopefully she would be able to go back, but didn't know exactly what was waiting for her there. I wished her all the luck, and she wished me good journey. We would both like to see each other again, but we had to follow our own separate ways.