Buses are the backbone of Samoan life. Being that most people do not have cars, they offer the valuable service of transporting people from the village to town and then back again. They carry people, items destined for the market, tourists seeking the pristine beaches, mail, and gossip. They play all of the best music, new and old and Christmas year round. Each bus has these traits in common but a host of other traits to make every bus it’s own unique being.
My side of the island (Northeast-North Shore route) has about 6 different buses. There is the pink Queen Maggie, which I have only ridden once as it is not really my bus of choice. Then the white Jane’s Beach Fales buses, which are a bit more regular but again I do not chose to ride them if I have a choice. Then there are the green buses. My loyalty lies with the green bus line, Paradise in Heaven. A man in my village owns these buses and as a result there are always familiar faces on these buses. I know all of the drivers and they know me. If I am walking down the street, the buses never pass without a friendly flash of their headlights and a quick wave and smile from the driver. I can say that this familiarity has been a major factor in feeling accepted into the village and the island.
The green buses vary amongst themselves. There is the one driven by Peni with its bobble head dogs above the front window and stickers of weight lifters stuck to the front windshield. Then there is the bus which sports a Jamaican flag with Bob Marley’s face in the center strung up above the drivers head. On early morning rides this flag is illuminated by a single light bulb and the rest of the bus is dark. It is a hauntingly peaceful sight. Lastly there is the somewhat plain bus that has a few giant stickers of feet with the word “STOP” written on the soles. I have debated those feet and have decided they are just there for color. This particular driver needs some interior decorating advice from the other drivers.
Some buses drive fast, others go nice and slow as if getting you to your destination is the least of their concerns. Some are so packed that people sit on laps, crowding four people to a seat, while others are so empty that you feel like you are on your own private charter bus. Some blast loud music with seat rattling base lines while others keep it so quiet you can hear the grunts of pigs and sounds of birds overhead as you pass by. Ironically, the quiet buses tend to drive faster than the loud ones. I guess the drivers are more relaxed with music on. Most drivers keep a crate of cigarettes above their heads and will smoke a few packs over the course of the day. I have even experienced one driver who likes to keep a beer at hand for the end of the day drives.
My favorite area of bus travel is its transportation of goods. Often times people will pull the chain to stop the bus not to get off but to hand bags of food or mail to someone waiting on the side of the road. The first time I did it was to deliver cat food to a PCV lower down on my bus route, and I felt like I had finally reached the state of being a true PCV. I have seen pigs bigger than myself laid out in the isles, cooked, bound in hand woven baskets of banana leaves, and being transported to be shared at a feast or given as a gift. Often time’s fine mats will crowd the isles as well. Things are loaded onto the bus in any way, shape, or form. I have seen piping tied to the side of the bus, babies passed from mother to stranger, and bikes strapped down to the wooden plank that juts out behind the bus. Last week I was on a green bus destined for home and was drifting deep into thought when the bus suddenly pulled off to the side of the road in front of the pink Queen Maggie. A man ran up to the door asking, “O fea le pusa keke?” Where is the box of cakes? Everyone, including the driver looked back at this man as if he was crazy. The man moved on and then another man came up demanding the same question. There were a few murmurs and then a women sitting towards the front pointed to a box above the drivers head, “Lea!” There! The driver reached up and without checking the contents of the box handed over what he assumed to be the cakes to the man. The man thanked everyone on the bus with a big smile and then hopped back on the pink bus as we drove away. Shortly thereafter the pink bus passed us with a honk of friendly hello and undertones of “Thank you.” The green driver honked back, clearly saying “Your welcome.”Later on that same bus ride we hit a piglet. The bus driver just shook his head in remorse and a few people made clicking noises with their tongues. A few minutes later no one remembered the incident. Thus is the routine of a daily bus ride. You never know what you will get but expecting the unexpected is the rule of thumb.