Here in Ecuador, at least in my mountain town, public transit is a great equalizer, bringing together generations and social classes, Ecuadorians and ex-pats, alike. The buses of Cuenca connect, not only neighborhoods, not only people and places, but entire populations, as well—uniting them on a common journey, if only for a few minutes each day.
Most folks in Cuenca, rich or poor, young or old, ride the big blue buses that pass along streets, large and small, every five minutes or so.
No need to worry about missing one. Another will be along shortly. And the ride will cost you 25 cents, a whole 12 cents, if you’re a senior.
Though it may not be as important to the culture as the subway is to New York City, Cuenca’s system of public transportation far surpasses what’s available in Little Rock, Arkansas or Lexington, Kentucky—and the city will soon have light rail service, as well—within the next two years, if not sooner.
But Sara and I have been riding buses here in Ecuador for six weeks now.
And so far, we make-believe we know our way around. We’ve purchased maps and transit passes.
(Of the passes, we’re especially proud—proud as any gringo-lesbians stumbling south of zero latitude can be—emphasis here on “stumbling.”)
So last week Sara and I boarded yet another bus, Mercedes Benz brand, making our way from downtown Cuenca to Totoracocha, where we now live—a mere 15 minute ride, even in heavy, el Centro traffic.
But on this day, the bus was bulging.
Heavily sweatered women crowded the aisles—babies and other bundles strapped to their backs in blankets that wrap around one shoulder and knot at the neck.
In Haiti, excess baggage in balanced on the head.
In Ecuador, it’s bundled on the back.
But no matter where we live, I’m not known for my balance, so standing on a bus that bumps along cobblestone streets, means a fall, or at least a stumble, is almost inevitable.
So as we struggled aboard, Sara croned at me above the roar and rumble of diesel engines, motioning to the only square inch of empty plastic. “Grab that seat.”
“I don’t want to climb over the pregnant woman!” I hissed, almost beneath my breath. The aisle seat was occupied, a bulging belly blocking access to the window one.
But, apparently, two, blue-uniformed seventh graders heard (and understood) what I’d said, as those girls stood, pushed their smiles into the aisle, and motioned for us to take their seats.
Not only am I too old to be pregnant, but apparently I shout broken-hip-waiting-to-happen.
“Muchas gracias,” I muttered—in equally broken Spanish—grateful for braided tweens and a respect for geriatric ineptitude rarely witnessed in North America.
Would that happen in your home town? What cultural differences have you noticed between young people in North America and those in some other part of the world? How do you feel about getting older?