Anyhow, I got caught up buying ginger root, chatting with the mobile blood drive representative and waiting for Carla at the post office to search through a random pile of mail for ours. Before I knew it I had walked a block too far because all the little "pulperias," small family-run convenience stores, and homes look similar…bright colored cement buildings with hole-laden cinderblocks for windows and corrugated aluminum roofs. When I looked ahead and saw a bunch of teenagers hanging out on the open basketball court, the community-gathering place, I realized I needed to turn around. Amidst all the colors, signs, people and noises of the city, I often get caught up noticing something new each time I make this walk so, needless to say, I didn't make it to the bus terminal by 5 when the bus is scheduled to leave.
Fortunately the bus will stop most anywhere so long as you make a subtle gesture like you are shooing someone away. In Nicaragua, this gesture actually means come here. When the bus stopped for me a few stores too early, I had to walk down to it because I think the hill was too steep so the driver didn't want to stop where I was standing. Surprisingly, there was still one seat left...it was worth walking the 10 minutes towards the terminal rather than waiting at the hospital bus stop where all the nurses got on, standing chests pressed up against each other and armpits in each others faces while holding the bars above the aisle.
I enjoyed this typical bus ride home from the comfort of the hard, tiny seat I was sharing on this old American school bus that has been tailored with customized art in bright and shiny paint and stickers to the Local Nica culture. Taking it all in, I smiled at the little things about this frequent experience that I have come to know, I looked around at men and women of all ages quietly enduring the bumps and quick stops as their children and tied plastic bags of things purchased in town shifted around on their laps and they press up against their sweaty neighbors. Throughout Moyogalpa, we stopped many times to pick up school kids in blue and white uniforms, working men and women and anyone who had made a trip to town today.
As always, when the bus gets full the "bus boys," as I call the teenage boys who work on the buses, are basically hanging out the back emergency door or the back side door if one is present, pushing everyone else into the crowded aisles. I don't know how the tree branches that I am constantly looking out for when I’m sitting near the window don’t hit them. They are talented. They jump on and off while the bus is still moving, quickly helping each passenger to enter and exit, all the while collecting each persons bus fare by squeezing through basically non-existent space in the aisle. They help lift up bags of cement, bikes, tires and anything folks are transporting to their destination as most Nicas use the bus for all transportation needs. What caused me to chuckle today was listening to them chastise the driver, yelling "suave" from the back of the bus with a tone that said "you idiot, slow down." This yell and bang on the metal roof was typical in every town as the "bus boys" are like passenger liaisons. They do all the communicating with the driver when someone needs to get on or off, especially when the driver misses the stop or starts driving away while people are still getting off or on in the back. Sometimes the bus stops to drop off a package at someone's home along the way or to pick up a plastic bag of who knows what from someone running out of a store. Today we slowed down so a guy could give a woman on the bus a beautiful tropical orange bird of paradise flower. When we started speeding up again, the "suave!" yell came from the back, in a tone I don't usually hear. The bus slowed again, this time to a stop. The woman jumped off and gave the guy a kiss and returned to the bus. Another whistle from the "bus boys" indicating the driver could now move forward and we were on our way.
For a while I was lost in a daydream staring out the window as the fields of corn with grazing cows and horses passed by. I enjoy seeing the countryside by bus and catching glimpses of towns, homes and family gatherings through the open doors and windows of the buildings that move by my gaze. As we passed through Esquipula today, I saw a tanned grandmother rocking in her chair by the barred window with her family gathered around in plastic lawn chairs watching television in their cement living room. We were moving pretty quickly today, as I had not seen too many herds of cattle or lone horses sauntering down the road ahead. As we neared the island's first airport, currently under construction, (it spans the main road on the island, so it will be interesting to see what happens when planes start landing here), the bus driver sped up and the "bus boys" yelled, "suave!" once again just as we flew through a giant puddle of tropical mud, possibly laden with animal feces and parasites. This time the mud only splattered up through the open window onto my arm instead of in my mouth like last time. Thankfully, I must have subconsciously remembered this dip in the road and turned away from the window when I heard the yell.
Eventually around 5:30, my stop in Los Angeles was near and as I got up to exit, my bulky bag became lodged under my low seat. Pulling it, my sweaty body bumped everyone in the aisle near me and I finally made my way to the door just as the driver passed my stop. I pounded on the metal roof to catch the drivers attention. The boys yelled "suave" and I descended the stairs, likely while the bus was still moving. I'm so used to it now I can't even remember. I walked the quiet dirt road home, stepping around the palm fronds and pieces of banana trees that are being used to fill in the ruts, smiling as I passed a large pig trying to cool off in a mud puddle and a small group of men and women singing loudly in a home church service...thankful to have shared the bus ride experience with the community and thankful that tomorrow I work at the NDI clinic, which is just down the street from my home here in Los Angeles.