This morning I walked with my son to his temporary bus stop. The usual bus stop had been disrupted due to road construction. As we stood waiting one block away in the early morning hour, the dew was wet on the grass, a Fall chill was in the air, and the sun was nearly ready to rise.
From our vantage we could see the school bus make its way towards us down the long straightaway, stopping periodically to pick up children, lights flashing, first yellow, then red, then off. Cars paused, then stopped in strict adherence to the law. The modern, uber-safety designed, spotless approaching bus caused me to stop and remember the yellow buses that ply the roads of Central America.
All over Nicaragua and Guatemala (and elsewhere, I presume) crawl 1960’s – 1980’s era American school buses, re-purposed, recycled, and exported. Local friends call them “Chicken Buses.” These old school buses are held together with bailing twine, black plastic, and duck tape. At the same time, each has be adapted with a distinctly Central American flavor; pinstriped and painted in red, yellow, green, or blue; named some exotic feminine name; and decked out with customized features or Christmas tree lights. Each has a luggage rack running the full length of the roof and sport a back-of-the-bus ladder for access.
The Chicken Bus constitutes public transportation for most of the working poor in Central America. Buses belching black smoke are overloaded making their daily run between villages, work places, and schools. People sit, stand, ride on the roof, or holding on to the back ladder. I’ve even seen people holding on for dear life to the emergency exit door, swinging wide open, with no one appearing to notice or care.
Safety is not a priority.
Friends have shared with me that the chicken bus is unsafe and full of pick pockets. Sometimes people waiting for the bus are passed right by, or passengers on the bus are told to disembark even though the bus hasn’t stopped. I can only imagine the number of people who fall off or fall out who are injured or killed.
I can’t even imagine putting my own son on a chicken bus for a ride to school.
As my son got on his safe, modern, school bus this morning and I smiled with thankfulness for such a taken-for-granted public service, my mind returned to the mission trips I’ve taken to Central America and all the people who daily ride the chicken bus.
My prayers are with them; for safety, for security, for enduring another hard day, carving out a living in a poverty filled world. My prayer is with the parents and families who are forced to rely upon the chicken bus for transportation for their children to and from school.
Today I think about Roger, who daily rides the chicken bus to get to the two schools where he teaches English to high school students. I think about all the college students I’ve made as friends, and who are sponsored by many of the generous missionaries with whom I’ve traveled, who ride the chicken buses to attend university classes. I think of Hulio who rides the chicken bus an hour each way to work to his factory manufacturing motorcycle parts just to support his family.
Lots of friends ride the chicken bus. Keep them safe, O Lord, our God, and our Protection. Keep them safe.