A Tale of Two Buses
March 8, 2016
By Sister Karen Donahue
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.
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.