MEF is several kilometers from Kitwe. When going to town to shop for food or to take money from the bank, I usually walk to the highway and catch a minibus. The fare is about 50 cents, and buses are plentiful. However, many people walk all the way to town. Often the women have babies on their backs and burdens on their heads, which they somehow balance despite the roughness of the paths. They certainly develop perfect posture!
My initial bus rides were each learning experiences in different ways. The first time, while crossing the street I saw a very crowded minibus at the stop. It seemed so full I waved it on and decided to wait for the next one. I noticed that the bus went on a few yards, somehow squeezed in two more passengers, and then headed to Kitwe. Moments later, an empty bus arrived, and I happily boarded and chose a window seat. And waited. And waited. Several other people got on board, but still we waited. A full bus passed us by, and we waited still. Petreol (gas) is so expensive here that the bus will not take off until it has filled up with as many people as it can possibly hold, together with their packages and lap children and backpacks. I would have made it to town a good 15 minutes earlier had I boarded that crowded bus!
The next week, I was going at a later time of day, and had waited perhaps ten minutes without seeing a bus going my direction, when the driver of a bus across the street asked if I were headed to town. When I said yes, he motioned me into his nearly full bus. I assumed that he was going to turn around to head in the right direction, but I was wrong. Turns out there are two routes to town. The direct route, which I had taken before, and the back way, which involved meandering through many dirt roads and small compounds along the way. It took twice as long, but I got to see many settlements, a police station, and rows of roadside stands selling different foods and products.
There are two interesting features about busses in Zambia. The first is the bus mottos, and the second is the pre-departure rituals on long-distance busses. I noticed mottos right away, usually two or three word phrases stenciled onto the top of the front windshields, sometimes on the back as well. I was inspired to start collecting them on the day when I boarded a bus that said "Trust God" and found that we were following a bus that said "Slow Down". Good counsel, I thought, whichever way you read it, and I started recording the messages on busses as I rode to and from town.
Some mottos offer advice: Just Do It!, Remember God, Trust and Obey, Unity and Love, All Things Are Possible, Why Not?, Trust God, and Slow Down. Other are expressions of pride or commentary by the owner/driver: This Bus is Best, Big and Beautiful, Big Boss, 10 Years of Challenge, I Am the Champion of Faith, and No Panic: God is in Control. The most common message is an expression of faith: Amazing Power of the Lord, Do God's Will, In God We Trust, God is Able, The Lord is my Shepherd, Jehovah who Answers, God's Miracles, Blessed Hope, Blessings of God, Brotherly Love, The Holy Spirit, Grace, and Blessings. Occasionally it is hard to understand what is meant. One bus said "Face 2 Face" on its front window. Another had a saying in Bemba which translates "Teeth are Just Bones". But two were just plain funny, at least to English speakers. One was a truck which said "Father, Forgive Them" on the back window, and on the mud flaps "They don't know what they're doing." The other was on the side of the vehicle: "This bus is covered by the blood of Jesus."
Finally, there is the experience of riding a long-distance bus, from Kitwe to Lusaka, for instance. I am told that first, while waiting for the bus to finish filling up, it is common for a preacher to come on board and give a message about how to live a good life and be pleasing to God. Afterwards, he or she might pass down the aisle with a small bag to take any offerings passengers might want to give. After the preacher leaves and all the seats are full, either the bus driver or a passenger will stand and pray for a safe journey, for the needs of the people on the bus and their families, for guidance and help with all of life's struggles. Then and only then are they considered ready to start the journey, properly blessed.