I would first like to say thank you to the my friends, family, strangers, and the Peace Corps for recognizing my blog. It is truly an honor to be selected as a winner of the Blog It Home contest. I am proud to be able to represent Peace Corps Samoa in Washington D.C. come October.
The other day while walking to the bus i passed a barber shop. As I slowly strode by the barber yelled out, “Hey! Brother want a haircut!” Hearing this, I simply took off my hat to show my baldness and kept walking. The two women sitting next to him burst out in laughter.
As a young boy I vividly remember waiting impatiently for the bus to arrive to take me to school. I would sit at the edge of the driveway and stare into the distance wasting time. I welcomed the unmistakable roar of the large diesel engine and the screech of brake pads being pushed to their limits on the neighborhood’s steep hills. Waiting for the bus here is kinda similar, but the overall experience on a Samoan bus is vastly different.
The majority of buses are converted from old diesel flat beds. The truck beds are removed and replaced with a well-made wooden shell. The seats are wooden benches simply screwed into the floor. Vibrant colors are popular among Samoans, so many of the buses are decorated (inside and out) in this manner. If the color exists on the spectrum you can find it on a Samoan bus. Aside from the paint schemes, many owners also like to name and put murals on their buses. This is what I like to call slow moving art. The murals vary from religious, to Samoa’s beautiful scenery, to ending domestic violence, and countless others. The owners don’t stop at the exterior. On the inside you will find pictures of Jesus, Mary, Samoa, or maybe a lava lava to celebrate the coming holiday. Lastly, the bus isn’t fully complete without the loudest jerry rigged sound system one can find. Often you know a bus is coming not because you hear the engine, but because you hear the bass from pop song bumping far off in the distance. Another volunteer and I love to discuss how we would decorate a bus if we were lucky enough to own one.
Now, you are most likely thinking, “aside from the artwork and wooden frames how are buses different?” First, buses are privately owned. In most cases there is a single person who owns a village’s buses and hires drivers. There are usually multiple buses fore each village that run at different times throughout the day. The buses tend to run on an incredibly/annoyingly flexible schedule. No matter where you are on the island all buses go to Apia and back. If you go into town don’t miss the last bus you will be stranded. For the majority of villages the final bus leaves at 5:30pm from town since businesses close at 5:00pm. Say you’re a student trying to get to and from school. You will also require the bus. Schools sign contracts with bus owners stating the majority their students will use their service as long as they work in a manner that benefits the school.
How comfortable is the ride you ask? I wouldn’t associate the word “smooth” with the ride. Riding on zero shocks while sitting on hard wood benches doesn’t feel like floating, that’s for sure. The major factor that determines comfort is time. Time determines the amount of people who will be on the bus. Since there is no limit to the amount of people who can get on, it can get quite crowded. After school, early morning, and late afternoon are times copious amounts of people need to ride the bus. The lucky ones get to sit in the seat while others either stand or sit on the laps of those in the seats. I have seen 50 people standing in the isle alone. This is not counting those on laps and seats. I am often impressed with the amount of people, animals, and produce that can fit onto a bus. I am fortunate my ride is approximately 30 minutes in each direction, any longer and it begins to become painful.
Buses are the most popular form of transportation in the country. This is due to being inexpensive and the fact most families can’t afford a vehicle. Villages take pride in their buses, hence why many go all out on decorating them. After being here for a year I can tell you where a bus is going solely on its name or color scheme. One of my favorite buses is decorated to honor Manu Samoa and the All Blacks (rugby). This bus was used to drive both teams in a parade before their game last year. Which village does it serve? Vaitele Fou!