Monday, April 11, 2011

I watched a woman chase a bus today.

Maybe chasing isn’t the right word. It’s hard to run with a duffle slung over the back and large plastic bags in both hands. She had sent a boy of about 10 running ahead of her in an attempt to stop the bus. The woman and boy weren’t alone…several adults were running the same race.

Getting a seat on a bus to Lima involves either buying a ticket at the terminal or standing two to three blocks away hoping a bus leaving the terminal has empty seats and will risk stopping in the prohibited zone to pick up a waving passenger. Ticket prices in the terminal are about 40 to 50 soles…on the street it’s 20 to 30 soles. For many people the terminal price is out of reach. Though Peru’s economy has grown 7% annually for the last five years, there is a large segment of the population that the growth has not reached. Chances of boarding a bus on the streets is about 50 – 50. Those who make it will be in Lima in about 12 hours. Those who don’t will find some place to sleep and try it again tomorrow.

We watched the boy, who was also burdened with bags chase the bus for three blocks before giving up. When he returned to the woman who had herself run two blocks she shouted at him a bit, probably out of frustration, because she had to know it wasn’t his fault. We watched the woman, boy and other ‘chasers’ begin the trek back to their starting point. What they somehow missed, and what we had seen from our elevated position alongside the road was that the bus was full. None of them had a chance.

Maybe the woman and boy will luck out yet tonight. If not there’s always tomorrow. When they do get on a bus another little drama will play out. If she’s lucky an understanding attendant will let the boy sit on her lap; not a comfortable situation for either of them. If not, the boy will sit on the floor between her legs. She won’t pay for a second seat, and the attendant won’t kick her off the bus.

Every time I see a scene like this or something similar unfold, I experience all sorts of emotions ranging from sadness to guilt (for watching them) to respect, which the bus chasers would probably not understand. For them and many other Peruvians this is nothing out of the ordinary.



  1. It made me sad too and as we walked away from the scene I was already trying to come up with the words to express what I had just witnessed. I don’t know why, but for some reason I’d like others who perhaps cannot comprehend this type of existence to know what it’s like. It may sound corny, but I feel a responsibility to tell the story as best I can of these courageous people.