Please welcome today’s guest writer, Katie Ulrich (’18). Katie works for the Association for a More Just Society, where she spent two years in their Honduran office and now works in the U.S. to connect Christians to issues of justice. She has slightly obsessive tendencies when it comes to coffee and the Enneagram, and she spends her free time wishing she had more time to read and listen to podcasts.
Life in Latin America tends to move at a slower pace. Stopping at your neighbor’s house can easily become an all-day ordeal. If you invite friends over, you can count on them being late. People linger long after church is over, and start times at many offices are taken as a suggestion.
In my time living in Honduras, I found that everyone tends to operate under a shared sense of letting life happen slowly—unless, that is, you’re a bus driver.
There is nothing slow about riding the bus in Honduras. Bus drivers drive like one of their passengers is going into labor. No, I take that back—they drive like everyone on board is in labor. It’s as if all buses are in competition with each other, trying to see who can move the quickest and who can get the most passengers on board. The key to winning this competition? How in-sync the driver and fare-collector are.
As the driver maneuvers through the streets, the fare-collector acts as the gatekeeper, advertiser, and cashier facilitating each passenger’s journey. The driver dodges lanes of traffic while the fare-collector hangs out the open door of the bus, shouting out the bus’s destinations so quickly that youcanteventellwhatheissaying and using just the flick of his wrist to ask “you coming?”
As the driver slows down to let passengers on or off, the fare-collector jumps off the still moving bus each time (miraculously without breaking his ankles) while making change for the thirteen lempira fare with his big wad of cash. The entire routine repeats itself over and over while the driver and the fare-collector try to optimize the number of people they can get on board.
Everyone who gets on is headed their own way—school, work, church, shopping, home—but for a brief moment, the barreling bus brings us all together.
Because drivers are so eager to fill their bus with as many people as possible, you’re lucky if you can find a seat. When the bus is full, you have to situate yourself into a good standing position in the aisle and find something to hold on to (or else find yourself falling into someone’s lap with a quick turn of the bus).
Most passengers jump into the quick rhythm of the bus, but there are some who slow the whole ordeal down. An elderly man’s sack of potatoes gets stuck in the doorway as he hops on. Someone all the way at the back of the bus needs to get off, slowly sliding one-by-one through the aisle full of people. A mother with three kids struggles to round them up and get everyone off; the fare-collector intervenes by picking one kid up around the shoulders and setting him down on the pavement.
Most days, I try my best to tune out all the commotion. But sometimes, when the bus is almost packed, they let you sit near the front in a spot that faces backwards. This spot lets you really take the entire scene in—ranchera music blasting, the driver and fare-collector in effortless rhythm, passengers’ personal journeys colliding. We’re all stuck together in this hurried-up moment, until we step off back into the slowed down world.