Tuesday, May 24, 2011


There are many things which can go awry when using local transport to get from place to place in West Africa. Ultimately, though, it’s the only way to go because of the fact that you’re mixing with the locals and it’s the best way to view West Africa at ground level. Christ, imagine driving from Mopti to Timbuktu without disembarking covered in red dust from head to toe. Well, that would mean that you were just there to visit Timbuktu and that would be stupid, wouldn’t it? Anyway, I digress. If it’s comfort, air-con, breathing space, odourless bodies and animal free environments that you’re after then local transport is not for you. And yet some of my best memories come from literally painful drives I took, for example, to the eastern Senegalese town of Tambacounda or the aforementioned endurance test to Timbuktu and back.
I actually thought that I’d finished with local transport when I arrived in Burkina as it’s top heavy with decent coaches to bring you to all parts of the countryside, but not so. The trip from Banfora to Gaoua takes some five to six hours along the reddest and dustiest track in all of Burkina. As ever on these trips as soon as someone is dropped off and you have momentary breathing space, there‘s another quickly along to fill the space vacated. A breathless woman arrived clutching a hen tied by its claws underneath her arm - this is the norm in these parts and many buses usually travel with at least a dozen tethered goats on the roof - in one swift moment she clambered on to the seat beside me, I happened to glance down at my shorts and notice a few dark brown splatters on my right leg, but before I could investigate any further she’d squeezed right in beside me.
‘The chicken's shat on me,’ I think to myself, quick on the uptake as ever, but as yet I’m unaware of just how much shit it is. As we’re driving along and before I’ve had a chance to investigate the damage further I’m wondering if it’s the Coke bottle effect - did she drop the fucking chicken as she ran to catch the bus and then, as she entered, it was all too much for the chicken who vigorously emptied her bowels having been shaken a little too much along the way. Before long the stench starts to spread throughout the bus but of course no-one has any idea where it’s coming from.
It’s only when I get out later to stretch my legs that I realise how bad it is - Jesus, what did that fucking chicken eat? If you took a cow turd, put it in a blender and squirted that on my leg then that would roughly correspond with what came out of the chicken‘s arse and landed on my thigh. Every time I got off the bus thereafter I self-consciously turned my body away from the bus hoping that no-one would notice. But there’s always at least one smart arse on every bus with eyes in the back of his head - this one unfortunately had the biggest mouth too. He sees the shit, points it out to me with a big stupid smile on his face - like, I hadn’t noticed it - and then the prick points it out to everyone else on the bus (I‘d have done the very same). Instant mirth ensues with everyone wondering if le blanc has shit himself. Is this what westerners do on long bus rides? I shrug my shoulders, pretending that I really couldn’t care less but the shit slowly oozing down my leg and my reddening features suggest otherwise - a clear case of protesting too much. The woman who owns the hen realises what’s happened, springs from the bus and spends five minutes wiping my shorts, me standing trying to look nonchalant with the eyes of the bus on us, the vehicle practically shaking with laughter by now.
A few stops later I get moved to the front of the bus - out of sympathy or due to complaints from the back it isn’t clear - beside the driver, and the guy who sits in next to me immediately produces a bottle of aftershave, sprays my shorts, sprays himself, the front of the bus and aims a few squirts into the back of the bus from where me and my shit sodden shorts have just emerged. Great, thanks. Happily, by the time we arrive in Gaoua there’s that much red dust on me and everyone else that the shit has become obscured. I’ll miss all of this of course.

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