A few weeks before leaving for Guinea Bissau back in June, I made travel plans. First I secured our boat tickets, got a place to stay a few nights, and then working through several contacts I was able to secure a car and driver from the South of Senegal to the South of Guinea Bissau. All the planning came together, and the trip was about as smooth as could be.
The return trip, well that was almost the opposite. The only plans I made was “we’ll figure it out when we get there.”
Our trip down ended up going very smoothly, so I made loose plans to call the same driver back with more details on when and where we could meet him for the trip back up. On the day I planned to call I was hit with a wicked virus (I think). A very high fever and upset stomach made calling our driver about the last thing on my mind.
The next day, almost recovered, I called to make plans for our trip back up the following day. The first call didn’t go through. The second one was such a bad connection that no communication was possible. (We were pretty well off any main route). Finally I managed to get a text sent off… no reply ever came. I knew then that we would be wing’n it as we went, trying to leave the country.
The first leg of our trip stayed as planned, the couple we were visiting had a car, and were planning to go in the same general direction that day. We would ride with them until we could find a car, taxi or bus to take us back to Senegal. The first village we stopped at had a garage. But after talking to everyone that we saw that had a car, we learned that no one wanted to go. Apparently someone the week before had their car seized in Senegal. They told us to try the next village.
Once there we stopped in front of a police station where a few drivers had gathered in front. Stacy took the kids behind the station to use the outdoor toilet, while Ron (the missionary we were visiting) and myself proceed to try again. The outcome wasn’t looking so good. They told us to go to the capital, which was out of the way, and thus would keep us from crossing the border before it closed.
Just then, another man drove up, and the others jokingly called to him, telling him to take us.
Eventually I ran behind the building telling Stacy and the kids we needed to hurry up and get going. When we got back out front, we were told I couldn’t sit up front like I had been planning.
Instead all six of us crammed into the back seat of something that resembled a small Ford Explorer. Stacy and I with the younger girls on our laps, and the older two squished in between. Another man had taken my place up front.
A few kilometers down the road Stacy was trying to piece everything together. The car we were in was unlike any other taxi, and why was the man who took my place up front an in uniform police officer?
“Is this a taxi?” She leaned over and asked.
“No,” I responded, “We hired the police.”
It was when that sentence left my mouth that I realized our idea of normal had changed. Sure, hiring the police is not normal here either… but going on a trip without everything figured out in advance knowing that you can find a bus, taxi, or simply hire someone with a car… that can be fairly normal. I hadn’t even been stressed out.
As it turns out, hiring the police saved us a lot of time. After all, who is going to stop the police for driving too fast? As we flew down the road he honked at anyone who even thought about coming close to the road. Everyone made way. He didn’t slow down much for potholes, he just swerved passed them. It was during this fast paced bumpy ride Stacy and I looked at our two young girls, who were fast asleep, and were reminded that our kids had been adjusting pretty well too.