The Black Expat Stories – Bus time story

The road was so busy. I stood there for a moment as cars, trucks, motorbikes and buses whizzed by. I made it to the centre and the crossing point, with its water logged grass was not going to stop me. I did wonder why they had put the bus stop so far away from the airport. Surely, if they had wanted to increase the use of public transportation to and from the airport, they should have positioned the stop closer. I put my hand out and stepped onto the warm bus with my small case. The comfort of that heat versus the ongoing negotiation that I would have entered with the taxi driver to turn down the air conditioning, was an easy choice after a freezing cold return flight. Most taxi drivers would turn around to look at me twice, whenever I asked for the AC to be lowered. That alone was disconcerting.
The bus was full of black and brown people. The buses were always full of brown and black people. I had never seen a pink or beige  person on the buses in Selangor. In Accra I had seen the khaki-shorts=Dr Martens-wearing types. They were never alone though and this was only occasionally. In Jamaica, the ones on the buses always looked like missionaries, as if they had come to save the passengers. I recall coming down the hill in Cameroun with broken headlights on a small bus. Someone hanging out of the window with a torch for light and Peter Tosh singing African. The Legalise album had been playing and the locals sang every word. There were a few white people on that bus, the last one for the evening. On leaving a conference in London, I had suggested to a friend that we take a bus to the next event. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and she was totally bemused, admitting that she had never taken a bus. We laughed. Yes, I enjoyed buses and being around the ‘public’. It was so easy to slip into the exclusive life of being an expat with the condo, mall and taxi lifestyle.
I swiped my card and sat down on the vacant seats close to the driver. I was still wearing my long skirt from having worked in one of the Islamic regions. There had been no time to change at the airport, for when the check in assistant had offered me an earlier flight, I literally had to run to board the half empty plane. Looking around at the women in their shirts and jeans, I so wished I had changed into my trousers. It was just easier. As the stares began, I could see that my braids were raising questions. My brown skin meant I could be African, Malay or Indian. My hair though. It didn’t make sense to the other people on the bus. I could see the passengers weighing up their questions about my ‘identity’ through my hair.

 

Plugging my earphones in, I relaxed to Earth Wind and Fire. It had been a long two days and the school visits had involved three hours of travel each day. The roads were rough and the rain was amazing. Torrential down pours are great when you are safely tucked up in bed. When the raindrops against the corrugated roof , become a part of the canvas to a sultry intimate scene, that is where rain and love making completely synergize. Driving along those roads to a new location, whilst hoping that the GPA wouldn’t go down, or that the hire car would perform well or that the rain would just stop, equalled too many challenges to my senses. There was little fun in that experience.
You take public transportation? Their faces looked confused. The locals and the expats asked the same question. Standing in the space of privilege where the taxi app on the phone is the only transportation option you know or would consider, looked like a disability to me. Not wanting to be close to ‘the workers’ as a Malay women had termed those who rode the bus, made me reflective. The workers were ok to build the shopping malls and expensive condominiums. They were not ok to be seated next to. There were always so many infinite possibilities and experiences that I had or observed with the public on these buses. The majority of the public take buses and I have learnt so much on those journeys.

 

The police often stop the buses to search for illegal immigrants.One evening the officers jumped on and asked for something. I wasn’t sure as they had spoken in Malay. I had woken from my drowsy state to demands and outstretched palms. I handed over my bus pass and the passengers laughed. I realised that was definitely a UK response with memories of inspectors and badges! The police officer smirked and then I heard the word Passport. I didn’t have it and so handed him my business card which he took to the officer outside. I wondered if he could read. He came back and asked ‘You work here?’. I do. ‘Carry passport’ he insisted in his best English. I agreed with my best nodding and dozed back off to pretend sleeping. In Malacca the brown people had been led off the bus and told to lay on the ground as their papers were not in order. I had been stopped there too. After all, my papers may also not have been in order. The white people in shorts and T-shirts had walked past this undisturbed. No one asked if their papers were in order.

 

On my previous bus journeys, I had met a Chinese woman who had complained bitterly about the Malay. She spoke of them as lazy and undeserving of all the perks which they received. I had listened. I had met a Malay man who asked me if I was married. He complained about corruption in their government. He complained of the rich Chinese taking over. I listened. I’ve met people who studied in the UK as the 1960s newly independent Malaysia had attracted scholarship offers which many of them had gained from. As a result of their own experience, they had chosen to send their own children to the UK and to the US to do their graduate studies. These elders had returned. Many of the stories ended with the children remaining. Those places had become familiar and their comfort zones had changed as they experienced the anonymity which places like London gave them.

My journey from the airport ended and the driver let me out at the traffic lights instead of taking me another half a kilometre away from my home. He must have known how much I was dreading that walk up the hill to my condo. He knew my brown face.

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16 Comments

  1. Yvonne

    Packed with interesting tales! 😉 xx

  2. MarvaB

    I was seated on the bus the entire journey.

  3. marvil a scully-mensah

    Interesting well done.

  4. Such a joyfully detailed insight into cultural differences… It makes me wonder how I would be received, as a conscious man raised within a family mixed with racial, cultural and religious diversity. Actually, I’d enjoy sharing the experience too!

    • MWaseme

      Shar thank you so much and yes, I believe you would enjoy the experience too xx

  5. Vanessa Matthews

    You write so beautifully…..

  6. Olu

    Fantastic memorizing, Sis! This is an example of how to not just visit a country, but to also experience it. Local markets (not tourist traps), public transport and long walks are the three on my travel ticklist before I can really say that I have experienced anywhere I have been. And then tell locals about your experience to get an appreciation of the real class (socio-economic) or cultural (racial/social) dynamics of the place. Happy travels!

  7. Thelma

    Vicariously sharing in these beautiful experiences. I can feel the joy and freedom in the first picture.

    “…he knew my brown face…” That sentence holds so much meaning.

    Great job. Great job.
    Please keep them coming.

  8. Akosia

    The workers are good for building the condos but not good enough to sit next to! I’m still smiling cos it’s true in most places. 🙂 I enjoyed the tro tro in Ghana too and now the crazy bus drivers in the Middle East! It’s the best way to know a country well and to stumble on “hidden treasures”! Lovely writing again, Mbeke!

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