Thursday, May 10, 2012

Learning Lessons

April 2nd

It's 9:45pm and I'm finally back in my own courtyard, drinking tea, enjoying the breeze while my house cools down. A few hours ago I was so emotional, so angry and upset and frustrated and embarrassed that I couldn't wait to sit down and type it out, but after so many hours of transport I'm kind of numb.

Emily and I left the transit house around 1pm, pretty typical to catch our buses that leave at 2. I had purchased my ticket with a new company, WPK, so we passed my STAF station, dropped Emily at Air Rondo, and successfully located the very tiny kiosk that marks the stopping point for WPK. As we pulled up the taxi driver queried if we had the right place – where was the bus? We were still a bit early, so I wasn't worried until the guy approaching our taxi from the station looked apologetic. WPK only has one bus. The bus broke down. The bus couldn't be repaired until tomorrow. Normally this probably would have sent me back to the House, but I have a site visit and a sensibilization tomorrow, so it was back to the STAF station.

STAF is very chaotic, to say the least. Buses leave for a dozen destinations around the country, and there are usually 4 or 5 leaving every hour. You know the bus is yours after a crowd has already swarmed it, followed by the placement of a metal sign on the front grill. Some only arrive to unload or refuel, sit a while, then pull out empty. For the bigger destinations like Ouahigouya or Bobo, you buy your ticket and then sign up on a list which is then read and when your name is called you get to chose your seat. My Seguenega bus is typically a free-for-all – you try to guess if the bus pulling in might be it, rush over, confirm that it's going to your destination, push your way on, dump your bags onto a chair to claim it, then fight against the tide of people to exit and bring over your bike so it can go under or on top of the bus.

Normally I sit and wait for the bus to show up, but today I was restless and kept wandering around in the staging area where everyone dumps their oversized baggage and motos. I ended up in a crush of people around the first Seguenega bus, where to my shock they were actually calling names! I explained to several people who asked why I hadn't registered my name that usually (aka several months ago when I took this bus) I can get on and buy my one-way ticket while we're underway. In fact, one time I tried to buy a ticket for a one-way trip and they refused to sell it to me, saying I should just pay on the bus. But alas, I was told to go buy a ticket for the second bus. Disappointed, I went to buy my ticket, stuck it in my pocket with the receipt for my bike, and kept wandering and waiting for the bus, following any that looked hopeful.

I got a text and didn't have enough credit to text back, so I went to grab my wallet because I always stock up on recharge cards when I'm in Ouaga (to avoid shocking my village with how much phone credit I buy a month). No wallet. I search all the pockets of my bag. No wallet. I walk around to places I've been standing since buying my ticket. No wallet. Now what?

I've been here for 18 months. Admittedly I've become rather complacent and comfortable, and my wallet was in a pocket on my shoulder bag (the same one it's always in), covered only by a flap rather than secured by a zipper. My first reaction was that there wasn't anything I could do. But I figured I should at least call Congo (our Safety and Security Coordinator) and ask if there were any steps I could take, just in case. Congo, of course, was wonderful, and told me to go to the ticket counter and ask to talk to someone in security. The ticket guy referred me to the “patron”, the boss – not terribly descriptive of who he is or what he does. So, still holding back tears, I explain that my wallet has been stolen and while I'm not sure what he can do, my coordinator of security told me to talk to him and see what could be done. He asks what I've lost. Luckily I don't carry much money around, I only had a little more than 20 mille in cash ($40), but I did have 45 mille in phone credit ($90) which I was much more upset about losing. He said to wait, he'd come see what he could do. I think I made a rather unhelpful remark asking what he was going to do, but obediently went to go keep looking for my bus. I wasn't too concerned about money because I had my bus ticket and cash waiting for me at site. But as the realization of it sank in, a big part of me wanted to just go back to the House and get my cash there and try to leave again the next day, and I started to feel a bit overwhelmed and panicked that I didn't even have the money to pay for a taxi to go back across town.

I started calling my major to explain the situation and to ask about rescheduling the sensibilization, but then the patron came over so I hung up and followed him a little way from the crowd. To my shock, he pulled out a wad of 10mille bills and started giving me money! I'm apparently not very quick on my feet in situations like this, but I hope I managed to convey my utter gratitude to him, particularly when he pushed me towards the entrance of the station to buy more phone credit before my bus left (I told him my “marie” would thank him, and even remembered to say a benediction in French and Moore, as is appropriate in situations like this). I asked for his name but all he said was that he was the patron of the station. Oh, the BIG patron! Oops. I called Congo after to ask if it was kosher for me to be taking this – he seemed surprised but certainly thought it was fine and asked if I could try and find the guy's name and number so we could thank him formally for helping me. I still have kind of amused, shocked, grateful, mixed feelings about accepting the money (albeit from the guy in charge of a wildly successful transport business). I'll admit that I calmed down a lot and felt more secure knowing that I at least wasn't (momentarily) penniless. I did as he said and bought some credit, then found my bus, claimed a seat, had to go back out and frantically search for my bike (it was nearly hidden under giant sacks of who knows what), then hopped back on the bus.

If all that wasn't enough of an adventure, we then drove about 5 minutes away and stopped for over an hour, apparently due to some kind of mechanical issue. I bought a few more mille of unite, a sandwich, and a FanLait (a frozen vanilla milk). The only other things that were in my wallet were my credit card and a blank check for the Poste, so I asked Mom to help me cancel the card (thank you!) and conference called with Nadine and Combaire at the Bureau so we could figure out which number check to cancel. I wasn't too worried about anyone using the card before it was canceled, the number of places that accept credit cards in the country are maybe up to 10 and very few people would know what to do with one. Even the blank check wasn't too big a deal, I'd just been to the Poste this morning to take out my monthly allowance so all that was in there was maybe 30 mille at most, not a tragic loss. I'm rather sad to have lost the wallet and lanyard itself – the wallet was the one I used at college, the lanyard was from my trip to Australia 9 years ago, so they had a little sentimental value. Still, considering the wallet was on top of my camera and one pocket over from my iPod, I think I got off pretty lightly. I feel really embarrassed to have become so complacent about my money, and I'm glad there wasn't more taken. The trip took forever, I'm exhausted, and I think now my house has cooled off enough that it's time to go inside and go to bed. Cliché as it sounds, I think I can safely say “lesson learned”.

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