Hurry Up and Wait

            All volunteers in Madagascar have to travel by taxi brousse at least sometime during their service; if not every time they want to go somewhere.  Though it gets easier for some, catching a brousse at the station can be one of the more trying and chaotic times during our service.  This is intensified at the stations in the capitol, Antananarivo.  I am one of the few volunteers that do not mind the regular brousse ride back to my region.  Usually for me it is an easy comfortable ride, especially when compared to my brousse ride to my town.  But the thought of having to go to the station sometimes fills me with apprehension and has me thinking of what else I can do to put of the
Getting to the station I must first decide whether to take one or two different taxibe’s (same as a brousse, but service as public transportation in the city) or to hail a real taxi.  The later is the most reasonable choice when carrying a lot of baggage.  You pay for the whole taxi, they put all your baggage in the trunk, and they drive you to the station of your choice.  The only problem with this choice is that it is exceedingly more expensive; upwards to 30 times more (though really only $4, it is a lot to a volunteer).  Choosing the former, which is what I usually do, saves a lot of money; it cost 400 Ariary ($0.12) per ‘Be.’  The downside to this is that I have to take not one, but two ‘Be,’ which means that I have to lug my pack/s on and off two separate heavily crowded buses.  This is not an easy task as my pack is wider than the aisle. Not to mention the lag time caused by the ‘Be’ stopping at every bus stop and the time waiting on the transfer between the two ‘Be.’
The ‘Be’ lets me off on the road outside the station and it is hard to relate into words what Fasan’ny Karana, my station, is like.  For starters, the station itself serves to send all the brousses to the towns south of the capital.  The station is a large walled complex with two gates; an entrance and exit (though taxis enter and exit through the entrance gate).  The road in the complex is dirt which means that it is usually slushy mud, or at the very least covered in muddles.  Upon entering the complex there is a long row of offices for the different companies on the left and small stores/restaurants on the right.  In front of the stores/restaurants is a large covered sidewalk where small vendors have set up shop to sell street food.  On the backside of the stores/ restaurants are where the majority of the brousses are lined up, backs to the wall, as far you can see. 
The layout of the station alone is enough to give some anxiety to even the most tempered person, but it does not stop there.  Imagine this layout filled with hundreds of people; some just loitering, but most running around with some aim in mind.  Many of the people at the entrance, not only after entering the station but outside of it as well, are trying to vie for your business.  Most of these people get commission from the different companies for bringing them business so upon entering you are bombarded by people asking where you are going and trying to guide you to their companies office.  It is this stage of the process that many people find it the hardest.  For me, I simply reply “Efa Misy (Already exists)” and then they turn away and usually relay that information to their friends.  Once past this stage and you have made it through that throng, you then have to make your reservation with a company.  At most stations this is not a problem, but this one has a bad reputation of trying to charge you more than the regular fare, especially if you are a Vazaha (foreigner).  Knowing the right company and the right fare price is key.  In the office you then look at a drawn map of the seat layout, pick your seat (window seat if possible; there is no air conditioning), and pay your fare.  Someone will then walk you through the crowd, down a small dirty passageway through the stores/restaurants, and around to your brousse, and leave you there.
At this point you have hurried through all the previous stages of the affair and now you wait.  If you are lucky, at this station I usually am, then your brousse is being packed and they will take your bag and throw it on top of the bus.  At this point you are free from your luggage and just have to waist time till the brousse is ready to leave.  This is always unknown.  When asked, the driver will always give you a time or say ‘soon,’ which almost never correct.  So you wait, and wait, and wait some more.  During this waiting you may wonder around to buy some food or drink or just stand around the brousse.  No matter what you do you must always, at least passively, be on guard of pickpockets who are also wondering around the complex.  Others that are also wondering around are people selling all sorts of things.  You can usually get a good price but if you are not planning on buying then it is best you do not ask the price or even look to intently at the products; once done it will be hard to get them to go away without buying. 
After all the seats in the brousse have been filled and the packing done, the driver will then call out the name of each person and point for them to take their seats.  Once this is done you then wait some more because the road out is too packed with other brousses and people for you to make a get away.  But once you make it out the gate the ride begins and it is easy sailing, baring any breakdowns, for the next foreseeable future.  In my case, 17 hours later, including a stop for food, and I have arrived at my banking town ready to catch another brousse the rest of the 6 – 8 hours, on a good day, to my town.

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