“What time does the bus leave?” I ask, first in English, then in Portuguese.
The woman behind the counter shrugs. “You want a ticket?”
|The bus depot at the entrance to the market.|
She hands a scrap of paper to me through the open window. My misspelled name and the number 3 are written on it. This is my ticket. No one will ever ask to see it. “Yellow bus. Over there.”
I follow the direction she’s pointing in and see that my backpack is already climbing aboard—so much of my time travelling is spent chasing after my luggage.
Splashing through the sloppy grey muck into the barefoot crowd, I follow my bag. When I reach the bus, the driver holds open the passenger door for me.
“Please,” he indicates, offering the coveted shotgun seat, “Please, it is raining.”
“What time do we leave?” They strap my backpack to the roof, covering it up cozy under a waterproof tarp next to a basket of chickens.
He shrugs as well. “When the bus is full.”
I never get a straight answer about how many tickets there are left to sell. We could be waiting on one; we could be waiting on sixteen. We could be waiting here in the gray marketplace all day and into tomorrow. A wait of no less than an hour (and probably no less than five) seems likely, so I wander off into the muck in search of something to eat.
This isn’t my first time in this town. The gloomy streets carry a familiarity; a sense of coming home. I’d arrived in the country a month earlier and set up camp for the first time on the other side of that big red and white building. This was where I first braved street food (it was midnight, I was wasted) and where I slid behind some boxes and into some benevolent stranger’s home to watch the football match on an eight inch black and white TV. I’d felt welcomed here. I couldn’t have picked a better jumping off point for this strange new land. Perfect but for the mud.
|That red and white building, there.|
It doesn’t often go a day without rain in this part of the country. It’s a cold misty rain, too, like back home on the ever wintery slopes of Mauna Kea. Neither the vibrant paint slapped up on leaning shacks nor the eclectic cloth the women wrapped themselves in could put a dent in the gray. When it rained, the colors melted.
I try to find the hole in the wall I ate at last month, the one with spicy, boiled egg soup. I remember giving directions to a friend who’d lingered in the market that day: “Walk towards the hotel. Okay. Now, look for a green door. No, there isn’t a name. There’s no sign. A green door, yes. Turn into the alley and come in through the opening in the wall. Okay, I see you.” How had I even stumbled inside?
Up and down the familiar foreign street I walk and yet no sign of soup. I slip inside another unmarked restaurant and order up a bowl of what they have.
I call the waitress-chef-owner-mother back once more. “And a beer?”
She laughs at me, a strange woman drinking alone, and happily delivers what I need to fend off the rain.
To say that time does not exist in this place is incorrect. There is a rhythm to life here that escapes me because I am too stupidly dependent on a watch to tick the seconds of my life away. Technology has superseded my heartbeat.
I sit and eat a bowl of rice, dipping into my small allotment beans every few bites. I try to slow down to Africa Time as I do on every visit to this continent. The beer helps. It dulls the sharp edges of my otherness.
From somewhere deep within me: How long has it been? I should check on the bus.
Relax. You’re on Africa Time now. Have another beer.
|It really does taste good.|
I listen to the second set of instructions and ponder the cookbook I’ll write for my favorite chef back at home. I even snap a few photos of the meal in between swigs of beer.
It strikes me as odd that a people so small in stature should only bottle alcohol in extra-large, village-sized containers. Are they hiding giants?
Beside me, a young man about my age starts chattering in English. How many houses do I own? How many cars? How many servants do I have? How much money do I make? The myth that American streets are paved with gold persists. It’s our own fault: tourists arrive, reach into magical pockets and pull out handfuls of money and candy and pens: wizardry.
I ask him to teach me the names of the animals and he laughs uproariously each time I try. He could be telling me the words wrong, telling me that the word for leopard is lion or suitcase or sex, but I think he just sees it as yet another magic trick. Step right up, step right up, fifty cents to view the woman with white skin who speaks Swahili. Genuine, real live, Swahili speaking American.
What time is it?
I take his picture; show it to him. He wants me to come back and give him a copy. I lie and tell him I’ll try.
Finally, full to the brim with two beers that equal five, I slosh my way back outside, spilling lager from my joints.
The bus has left.