#196 Bizarre Transportation
The EAW’s life revolves fairly evenly about four poles: Sending life-saving emails; attending life-saving coordination meetings; diarrhoea; and bouncing around in White Toyota Land Cruisers. Given the latter, then, it’s not surprising that a large amount of EAW conversation revolves around moving from one place to another.
At first, the EAW does enjoy their Land Cruiser and local driver (EAW Level: Novice), but as the EAW grows, they slowly begin to distance themselves from that chariot of HRI Affiliate choice. After a while, the EAW is only comfortable in a Land Cruiser while on dirt roads (EAW Level: Journeyman). Then, can only drive in a Land Cruiser if it is filthy and afflicted with either mud, or bullet-holes (EAW Level: Competent).
Eventually, the EAW will be ashamed to be seen pulling up to a coordination meeting [life-saving] in a Land Cruiser at all, and must arrive in a Chinese-made four-by-four knock-off which they drive themselves (EAW Level: Expert). Finally, the only acceptable mode of transport to be publicly visible in is a local minivan, ideally with at least three chickens inside and a bundle of sugar-cane tied to the roof (EAW Level: Specialist).
Mastering the use of locally available transportation options is essential to developing EAW field cred. The more extreme the transportation option, the better. At the low-end of the spectrum is learning how to navigate the local taxi or minibus networks (extra points for your skill at negotiating a cheap rate). From there, long-haul journeys under increasingly bizarre modes of transport are necessary to level-up. At EAW house parties, the expat bar, and in surreptitious murmurings before cluster meetings, EAWs can be heard comparing modes of transport in an effort to establish who, really, has the largest sat-phone.
“I once spent three days in a bus travelling from Kano to Elmina.”
“That’s nothing. I had to ride in a Matatu for fourteen hours. With a goat in my lap.”
“Hah. Lightweight. I rode in a vegetable truck from Peshawar to Hyderabad. For two days. With rotten vegetables.”
“That’s pathetic. I once had to ride a donkey cart. From Lokichoggio to Torit. With three returnee families. And their zebu. Through a minefield. For a month.”
What may seem like a fairly mindless display of increasingly-aggressively-expounded-but-otherwise-innocuous travel anecdotes to the casual observer is in fact a ruthless outworking of highly sophisticated social posturing, not unlike the flashing of a baboon’s arse. It is essential to realise that in the EAW’s lexicon, there are in fact inherent rules to any travel account in garnering field cred, which is gained through a constellation of the following factors:
Obscure locations: Points are gained here by using specific destinations so remote that only an EAW who has shared the same posting could possibly have heard of them. Khartoum bad. Nyala better. Rehed-al-Birdi best. They must not be tourist destinations- and ideally should be inaccessible to anybody without a humanitarian visa.
Sloth: Any journey that takes a long time. Distance is less a factor here. The crux of this one is, the longest time to go the shortest distance. Something that goes slower than walking pace? Winning.
Local Transportation Names: Matatus, tuk-tuks and dhows are all very well, but the EAW listener is really looking for something a little like your bajaj, your taxi de brosse or your pinasse. Authenticity, people.
Hardship: It can’t be comfortable. Nobody wants to hear about your business-class flight. Seriously. You’ll find yourself alone at the bar, and that tumbleweed? You earned it.
Anything Involving Animals: Buses with chickens. Cargo-planes with goats. Canoes with cows. Camels in a taxi. Be creative.
Overcrowding: Should at a minimum flaunt any Western safety standards. As a rule of thumb, should be at 150% capacity or greater. Minivans with less than 25 grown adults do not count. Boats should be in imminent danger of swamping, with bonus points for creative solutions used for bailing them out, such as hub-caps, or human skulls.
Danger: Any mode of public transport that crosses a war-zone, involves multiple checkpoints, or bribing local militia to provide you with security. Official military escorts or logo’d vehicles don’t score points here. Riding in military vehicles might, but will be frowned upon if deemed to breach the Red Cross/NGO Code of Conduct neutrality guidelines (in which you can expect all EAWs to be fluent, and to use to vehemently beat you with if found in contravention of- see Righteous Indignation).
Breakdowns: If possible, multiple times in a single journey. Ideally at some critical juncture, like in a small ferry on a flooded river above a waterfall, or at 25,000 feet.
On the Clock: We’re not just talking about what you did during your gap year. This is about the lengths the EAW goes to to save lives. Think of the children! Had to hitch a ride on a donkey cart to get to a feeding centre? Spend two days on a canoe to reach a clinic? EAW gold.
Exotic: Something unique or incongruous. A Tuareg salt-caravan, the top of an iron ore train, a cargo barge. Cred for anything that nobody else in your vicinity has ever travelled on.
Decrepit: The more broken-down the better. Helicopters with duct-tape on the rotors. Planes with shattered windshields. Boats leaking water from at least three holes. Anything with Cyrillic script.
It sounds complicated. And it is. The experienced EAW, of course, is fluent in this unacknowledged vocabulary (EAW Level: SEAL-Team 6). But if you do happen to find yourself in a situation where EAWs are starting to compare travel stories, and you can feel the tension rising, use these criteria as a guide, dig deep, and find the most compelling transportation tale you can tell. And, if you find yourself in the unenviable situation of being outmanouevered by the more experienced EAWs in your group, then do what any other self-respecting EAW would do under the circumstances: Blatantly Exaggerate.