When reflecting on this past semester, time spent on public transportation comes to mind. Some of the most interesting people I have met and most memorable experiences have occurred on combis. A combi is a small, often white van that is jam packed with people, ignores all American notions of personal space, makes an infuriating amount of stops, but ultimately gets you where you need to be on the most round-about route possible. On my first ride to orientation at University Botswana, I was joined by my block 9 neighbor Hayley. We were both too insecure about our Setswana to call out “Em ma mo stopong!” as you are supposed to when you reach your stop, but luckily we met a kind man who called it for us. I knew we were supposed to stop near a bridge, but unfortunately there is more than one bridge in Gaborone and I was far off in my estimation. Haley and I got off, lost and confused, wandering around for an hour under the blazing sun. Most people we came across were incredibly helpful; one woman in particular became our guardian angel and walked us to the taxi station. This instance of kindness was consistent with my overall experience in Gabs; the people, women especially, have been so gracious and helpful to me in a way I am not accustomed to in Los Angeles or anywhere else I’ve spent time in the U.S.
A week in, and Hayley and I are feeling more confident! We became flustered in the bus rank, which still happens, as there is no way of avoiding the bewilderment that coincides with countless men yelling at you to get in their ‘special’ (more expensive) taxi and the continuous catcalling and harassment that is inevitable for women in the bus rank. Overwhelmed, we hopped in a combi without doing a thorough questioning as to where it went. We rode for an embarrassing forty five minutes before realizing we were not headed home. My alarm bells didn’t start ringing until a pack of wild zebra ran by alongside the combi, which is not something you see in the city. When we asked the combi passengers if we were headed to block 9, they all burst out laughing while informing us that we were headed “into the African bush!” We wound up in a village unbeknownst to us, with no living creature insight except for some friendly goats. A combi plowed around the corner and, as the driver called out to us, we ran to him, hopping on without ever looking back.
As I become more adjusted to combi routes and life more generally in Gabs, I have come to love my hour long combi ride to and from school. Everyone greets each other when boarding it, instead of the silent, awkward stares you receive when finding a subway seat in the U.S. On the way home from my internship one day a combi passed by me filled with only school children. The driver invited me aboard if I didn’t mind music. I was confused why he felt the need to ask until we took off, and I realized by loud he meant the type of loud that is likely to burst your eardrums, music-you-can feel- vibrating-through-your-entire-body-loud. We sang along to 80’s pop music without self-consciousness, since there was no chance someone could hear you and the other passengers were seven.
On other enjoyable rides when my hearing is intact, I have met incredible people and engaged in discussions about politics, gender roles, colonization, race and religion. Other rides have been spent in comfortable silence after the initial “Dumela!,” offering me the time to myself that I have so greatly missed since arriving at college. My daily combi rides serve as a reminder that some of the most meaningful experiences occur in the most ordinary of circumstances, when you are sweating profusely, sticking to the seat of a bumpy vehicle