It took me about 8 months to be able to sit calmly in a vehicle here. Even in the States, I have a hard time riding in the car as a passenger. For whatever reason, my control issues come through full force when in a moving vehicle. I love driving. But being in the passenger seat, my foot is constantly pressing to the floor on my invisible break, and my hand is always going to the “oh no” handle (to keep it G). And here, where road rules are more like gentle suggestions, it was that much more difficult. Rather than stop at the red octagonal signs, people tend to just honk their horns as a warning to cars potentially coming from the other direction and barrel through. There are yellow lines on the roads indicating whether passing is permitted or not, but people seem not to see that color; even coming around curves cars will fly by on that left side. Plus, there aren’t just the traditional vehicles on the roads; there are countless motorcycles, occasional horse/donkey carts, bikes, and moto- or bici-taxis.
But finally, I realized that people know what they’re doing. So a few weeks ago when I was on my bus home from a conference in Santa Marta, I closed my eyes and started dozing off. When I jerked awake once, I realized we had slowed to a crawl thanks to the road construction on the highway between my town and Barranquilla. Ahead, there was a construction worker was waving traffic through, because a dump truck was waiting to move into our lane. As we approached the man, he continued waving us through and gesturing at the truck to stop, but for some reason the truck didn’t see his gesture. We were crawling through that spot, watching this truck backing up, and for some reason it just didn’t stop. It literally didn’t stop, and our bus was hit by this truck with a loud noise and the crash of glass and there were a couple people in the back where it hit and I was terrified to look, but fortunately people who were closer and less panicked ran back to make sure they were okay. Aside from being covered in shards of the window, they were unharmed.
For a few moments, all of us kind of stared, dumbfounded, at the gaping hole in the back of the bus, while we listened to our driver yelling outside. Finally someone started moving and we vacated the bus and did our staring from outside, where we could better see and hear the shouting match between our driver, the truck driver, and the traffic controller. I don’t know how, but the entire section of the bus that was hit by the truck fell off. There was really just a hole in the bus. I don’t know who won the argument between the three men. I don’t know what happened with the couple that had been in the back of the bus. I know I loaned my almost-dead phone to a younger gentleman holding a pink box; he showed me the beautiful Minnie Mouse birthday cake inside, which was fortunately only damaged the tiniest bit in the back. Soon enough, traffic was flowing by us again, everyone gaping, and the bus behind us stopped to let us all on to finish our journey.
I let our Peace Corps Safety and Security Manager know about the incident, in case anything came up. He triple-confirmed that I was okay (I was and am). Within 24-hours, I had an e-mail from the Country Director, checking in on me. Within 72 hours, I had a phone call from one of our doctors, also checking in on me – not just my body, but also my mind. Fortunately, this incident didn’t give me any anxiety about getting on a bus again. It was a weird, crazy accident that had surprising results to the bus, but with everyone in one piece, I am not concerned. I’m still much more trusting of drivers here now than I was when I first arrived.