A Tale of Two Buses

March 8, 2016

By Sister Karen Donahue

Group photo of travelers to Central America. Sister Karen is standing, fourth from the left.

Group photo of travelers to Central America. Sister Karen is standing, fourth from the left.

Every so often a commonplace experience can be a source of insight into profound reality. This happened to me on a recent trip to Central America where several bus rides became a metaphor for the gross inequalities that characterize our world.

In El Salvador, we made several long trips (two hours plus) and numerous short trips on a quintessential yellow school bus. This bus was a cast-off from a school district in Florida. The seats were so close together that preschoolers would have been hard-pressed to squeeze in. Of course there was no air-conditioning, so we had to open the windows to get relief from the heat.  

However, open windows meant that we had to contend with diesel fumes, not only from our vehicle but from all the cars and trucks that shared the road with us. There was no food served, no bathroom on board, and the rides were very bumpy.

At the end of a week in El Salvador, we traveled by bus to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a trip of about eight hours. This time, however, we were in the lap of luxury on a coach bus where the seats were similar to first-class seats on a plane, complete with foot rests. There was a clean bathroom on the bus, and the air conditioning was so intense that you needed a sweater or light jacket. The sealed windows assured that we were surrounded with fresh, clean air.

Sister Diane Guerin, Jean Stokan and Sister Karen with a member of the staff at Casa Corazon in Honduras.

Sister Diane Guerin, Jean Stokan and Sister Karen with a member of the staff at Casa Corazon in Honduras.

Shortly after the bus left the station we were served breakfast which included a large container of assorted fresh fruit. Food continued to appear throughout the trip—juice, coffee, sandwiches, cookies, water and soda pop.

As I sat on this bus I could not help but think of my bus rides the previous week. On those rides I was connected with the world outside. It was literally coming in the windows. Here I was isolated. The windows were sealed but they also had heavy red drapes which partially restricted the view of the outside. I was really in a cocoon.

As a person from the global north it is easy for me to sink into my cocoon and forget that there is a very different world outside my experience, one where many do not have food, sanitation or clean air.

The majority of the world’s people are on the school bus. Relatively few are on the coach.

Read more about the delegations to Honduras and to El Salvador

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  1. Marianne Comfort

    What a beautiful reflection, Karen! Thanks for opening our eyes to inequality through the means of transportation we rely on every day. I often am very aware that most of the people on the bus I take every day in suburban Washington, DC, are people of color who are clearly coming from physical-labor or service jobs , while people on the more expensive Metro trains are more white and even when mixed races and ethnicities clearly more professional.

  2. mary stanton

    Karen, Hi! Your “tale” took me back to my trips to El Salvador in the 90’s. With Mercy Associate, Sue Kathman, I traveled once to El Roble, our Sister Community in El Salvador and a second time to the outskirts of San Salvador for time with some families from our communidad and for a gathering of Solidaridad. On both of these extended stays, we traveled to and fro on the “people’s bus” that you describe – or in the back of a pick-up truck! We felt incredibly connected with those we had traveled there to visit as we shared plantains, passed the babies to the adults who were sitting (so they didn’t fall out the openings as we rounded serious curves) and listened to the singing (as well as loud bus music.) Those bus trips were certainly memorable and meaningful, in so many ways. Thanks for brining it all back.

  3. Eileen O'Connor

    Karen ~ what a beautiful reflection…. thanks so much for sharing it! It made me recall a trip to El Salvador when we stayed in a tiny not-quite “village” where people wore no shoes and where there was no plumbing of any kind. Though we were very careful not to eat or drink anything there, two of us must have caught an air-borne something, because at one point I was both very sick to my stomach and had diarrhea ~ with NO PLUMBING! It was literally “choose your bushes…” By the way, one reason we were there is because our Latin America Solidarity Group in Buffalo had raised money for a fresh water pump for these very poor and very grateful people…. Thanks again! ‘See you soon in Detroit! Eileen O’Connor