Monday, May 9, 2011

When getting home is twice the battle

I have heard of getting there is half the fun but I recently learned that getting home can be twice the battle.

On Saturday as soon as our teaching commitments were over Ian and I headed off to Trashigang to do a spot of shopping and get the photos for the Photography Club processed. When I say headed to Trashigang we actually went to the main street of Rangjung and waited around looking hopefully at any vehicle that came down the main street in the right direction hoping to snag a lift. There are “taxis” available locally. Here a taxi is 4-wheel drive or minivan with its roof painted yellow to indicate that, if there are empty seats and they are going to your destination, then you might be in luck and be able to pay the share rate with any other passengers going your way. It is also possible to book a vehicle but only if you speak the language and are prepared to pay for all the seats yourself!!

By Saturday afternoon when we become free there are never any such taxis going in our direction and the locals are happy to tell us that they all leave early in the morning, as does the only local bus. That of course is when we are teaching.  Anyway, after stopping every likely looking vehicle on the road, and flagging down ones who weren’t going in our direction, one of Ian’s grade 4 students took to pleading with a driver parked at the end of the street, to take us. He looked completely disinterested in us and the prospect of going any where, so she gave up and we for want of any better option, when we had already waited an hour took off in the direction of the main gates of my school, on the off chance that another teacher might be heading to Trashigang.

Before we got to the gates the very same driver happened along and motioned to us to get in. At this we were all smiles and weren’t in the slightest bit fazed when he stopped 5 minutes out of town and the only other passenger informed us she was just getting something from her house and we could wait for about 15 minutes. She leapt out and left her handbag on the seat to prove that she was coming back and bounded down a goat track to one of the collection of small huts directly down the cliff face and on the river bank. We settled in for the wait joyous at the success of having our journey there sorted and confident that the local bus would be able to bring us back. When she arrived back in less than 10 minutes we were all set. In fact another 4 kilometres out of town we stopped to pick up 2 more passengers in front of the Vocational Training Institute. That meant that there were now 4 of us crammed into the back seat and off we bumped to Trashigang.

This regional centre has a few shops and restaurants and hotels and our prime destination the photography shop. Ordinarily an hour of shopping would exhaust one’s interest in what was available but with 700 photos to print it took half an hour just to program in how many of each shot we required. We knew that local bus left for Rangjung at 6pm or thought we did, so we spent the next 3 hours doing the rounds of the various shops and then dropping back into the photo processors to see how they were going. At about 5pm I could see that they weren’t going to finish this print run in time and began try to hurry them up. Futile as that was. By 5.45pm I was out of patience and about to abandon whatever had not been printed yet, knowing full well that the students would be bitterly disappointed as some of them had already waited almost a month since the shots were taken. At that point one of the staff suggested that we could leave him to print the rest and it would be a simple matter for any of the drivers going through Rangjung tomorrow to drop them in at the high school. Problem solved we paid up for the full quota and rushed of to the bus station.

We had about 3minutes to spare when we got there and there were 3 local buses in the parking zone but all of them in much better condition that the old rattler that we have taken home twice before. Jamie Zeppa in “Beyond the Sky and the Earth” vividly described this bus as the vomit comet! That’s our local service in a nutshell. We looked around a little puzzled and then a knowledgeable young man who seems to hang out in the station informed us that the schedule had changed on May 1st and that the only run back to Rangjung now leaves at 3pm and that of course meant that it had already left for today, just moments after we arrived in fact.

The taxi drivers all sitting around outside their vehicles chatting now suddenly began to take a slight interest in us. We had no option but to take the only van prepared to offer us a lift at the full vehicle price for a return trip, as he would have to come back empty! No choice, so we piled in and off we went. 5 minutes out of town he declared that he forgot to get fuel and that we would be returning to T/gang!!! He asked a driver on the road if he was going our way but he wasn’t and so we were unceremoniously dumped back near the photo shop! We actually think he just lost interest in the fare but we were then starting to worry about how we would get home. At that exact moment we ran into the husband of another teacher from my school, with the same dilemma and we 3 decided to head back to the bus station to see if a driver might be more interested with 3 passengers.

At this point someone informed us that an old beat up truck with 2 bench seats running down both sides and open sides was going our way and as soon as it had off loaded it would be leaving. Music to our ears! The driver actually had his head buried in the engine and it didn’t look very promising but with no other option we stood around the plie of bamboo stakes, buckets of other building materials and gunny sacks of chillies trying to look as optimistic and hopeful the rest of our soon to become travelling companions.
Just as darkness descended on Trashigang we bumped off towards home with a few elderly farmers and their chillies and a couple of day labourers and their supplies and tools. We 3 chalkies were the only ones that didn’t buy some of the chillies before finally getting off the bus/taxi/truck at the gates of my school, but we were greeted by students expectantly asking if we had the photos.

Yep most of them, and it only took Ian another 2 and a half hours and several phone calls on Sunday to discover where the driver had left the final instalment of them, when they weren’t at the school as we expected.

I only wish I had had my camera with me to photograph the weird and wonderful vehicles we travelled in but then again it was because of photographs that the whole dilemma had started.

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