BUS JOURNEY FROM BAC HA TO LAO CAI
As I clambered up the rickety bus for my ride back to Lao Cai, two arms stretched out for me. One reached for my rucksack while the other extended towards me. I grabbed it and was hauled aboard. I thanked the two Vietnamese men who had taken upon themselves to ensure I did not tumble off the accelerating bus. The bus was packed with passengers to capacity and every imaginable produce and hardware occupied almost every available space. As I squeezed through the crowded aisle and took my ‘seat’ next to a sizable and nerve wrecking-looking hole on the floorboard, an elderly lady gestured to me to sit atop her sack of rice. Not wanting to offend her kind gesture I did. Now that I have been elevated to eye level with the other passengers all eyes were on me, the only foreigner. I see weathered faces of women and men with toothless smiles and kind eyes gawking back at me with approval.
The bus jerked to a halt and more passengers boarded it. Point in thought: A full bus in this mountainous region of Vietnam’s hill-tribes is never quite full. At least not to their understanding of the word, their bus is never full. There is always a way to work around the enormous congestion and these gentle folks are amazingly tolerant of their discomfort. Wares and produce are re-stacked and bodies contort to accommodate another. I watched in amusement as more bodies, protesting fowls, sacks, bags, bundles of all shapes are pushed and shoved in while bigger items are hauled and tossed atop the bus’ roof, including a chunky leg of a cow being tossed unceremoniously and landing with a dull thud.
After some time and much spirited commotion carcass, bags and bodies (human and otherwise) settled in and soon we resumed bobbing along the dusty roads. Once again kind eyes nestling atop wide grins fell on me. I gazed into several and I could see that they were eyes that have witnessed a lifetime of hardships and indomitable endurance but, without a hint of self-pity. It didn’t take long before a voice spoke towards my direction and everyone laughed in unison. Not knowing what was said, I laughed heartily along. And soon our little party of dusty bodies evolved into a chorus of uncontrollable laughter as we communicated with each other in the crude but internationally-understood language of hand signs, and from then on our ‘conversation’ knew no boundaries.
Sapa, Lao Cai, Bac Ha, Can Cau, North Vietnam (April 2007)