Monday, May 23, 2011

Polepole, I Travel Along

I stood in line and waited for the bus to load. We were supposed to leave at 9:00 PM. I shifted from foot to foot and looked around nervously. My eyes were peeled for the infamous pickpocketers that I had been warned about. Stories of buses getting hijacked or being driven into wandering animals in the dark of night plagued my imagination as well. Standing in a queue with a collection of strangers surrounding me, did not help matters. For the most part, we did not even share a common language. While I am sure there were some who understood English, my knowledge of Swahili was limited to Jambo = hello, jambo bwana = hello brother, and hakuna matata = no problem. That unfortunately wouldn’t take me far in an emergency though.
I just wanted to leave. I was conspicuously out of place with my backpack piled high with a sleeping bag and all my worldly possessions crammed inside of the bulging pack. My white skin shone neon against the majority of my dark-skinned neighbours. Once we were on the bus, I felt like I would be comparatively safer from the potential evils that surrounded me. I could hide in my seat, with only the worry of my seat mate. That alone would make it difficult to sleep on our seven-hour overnight journey. I did not sleep well on overnight trips at the best of times. I prayed that our drive would be uneventful and safe. I was glad that at the very least, we would not have to cross any borders during the journey. If I could get a little sleep, then the trip would be over before I knew it.
I shifted from foot to foot again and glanced at the clock hanging over the platform. Dim lights illuminated the hands on the clock face. It was time to go. A bus sat at another platform, but we had nothing at ours. While Nairobi to Mombasa was a major route between two influential cities in Kenya, I also knew that I was in Africa. African time was polepole.
Ah, there was some more Swahili for me – polepole meant slow or slowly. It had a strong link to hakuna matata. We could leave at 9:00, 9:18, 9:43 or whenever the bus finally arrived. No one sweated it or batted an eye. The women sat beside their giant red and blue checked plastic bags crammed with goods for market, with their babies strapped to their backs completely unperturbed. The babies slept or looked around themselves silently with large brown eyes. Not a peep was made. Men laughed and joked with other men, or amused themselves with games.
I tried to relax to the polepole schedule, but found myself looking at the clock again. It didn’t help that once I arrived in Mombasa, I would be in a new and foreign city. This time alone. Really, this was the first time that I had travelled all by myself. Always before, I had had family, friends or tour companies helping to set the itinerary. Now it was just me. My plans were loosely based, and I had no concrete destination in Mombasa or beyond. I refused to allow myself to think of the craziness of the situation. That was the nature of backpacking.
For the time being, I preferred to live in the moment though. With a sigh of relief, I saw the headlights of a bus swing into the parking lot. It pulled up to our platform and stopped with a release of air brakes. While it might take a while to get people and baggage loaded, it looked like we would leave soon enough. My smile returned, as I allowed myself to think about the adventures that lay ahead. 

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