I’m standing by the side of the road. My left hand has a a loose grip on Cooper’s leash while my right arm is out straight, palm facing the ground, attempting to flag down the oncoming bus. Through the windshield, I see the driver shake his hand, telling me that the bus is full. I’ve been standing here, on the side of the road with my dog for over an hour. Every bus and van that has passed has been full to the brim, people hanging from the open doors, squished up against the windows and one another. Only the driver gets a few feet of space to steer and signal to potential passengers. I take a step back from the highway as the bus speeds by, leaving Cooper and I to wait a bit longer.
Many part of my service could be summed up by the word “waiting”. Waiting for a meeting to start, waiting for funding to come through, or waiting for the youth I work with to be available. Even the lead up to my service was quite a wait – the was a year and a half between my first application and my departure (the usual wait is only 6-9 months). In the last 23 months I’ve waited for brownouts to end (RWT (record waiting time): 24 days), I’ve waited for running water to return (RWT: 27 days), and I’ve waited for the rain to stop (RWT:39 days). Patience is a vital virtue for Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.
I have given up on the spot where Cooper and I were standing, and have walked about a kilometer down the road to a waiting shed where we can wait with other weary travelers. About five minutes later a mostly full bus pulls up. I stream aboard with the other hopeful passengers, only to be told that they don’t allow dogs on this bus line. I knew that already, but I was hoping they would make an exception. I try to explain the Cooper is not like other Filipino dogs: he’s not going to bite anyone, and he isn’t going to poop or pee on the bus. The conductor doesn’t buy it. We step back down on to the concrete, and dejectedly return to the waiting shed.
Let me tell you, waiting can be a frustrating business. If you go to the city on the wrong day, you can spend an hour waiting in line at the grocery store. If you’re traveling around the holidays, lines mean nothing: when that bus rolls up or the ticket counter opens it’s a free-for-all. It’s enough to make you scream (or at least make you use your elbows to keep people from cutting you). When you’re unsure about when the waiting will end, it’s like sitting on a weird teeter-totter of hope and despair – you’re hopes being raised, and then smashed by the events around you.
Teetering on the edge of despair, I lean up against the railing of the waiting shed. Almost all of my fellow travelers have found a ride, so there are only a few older men to keep me company. I knew that it was going to be difficult to find a ride with Cooper at this time on a Sunday afternoon, but it’s beginning to feel impossible. One of the older guys heard me speak Visayan when I was having the philosophical debate with the conductor on the bus, but he asks me just to be sure, “Kaibalo ka ug Binisaya?” (Do you know Visayan?)
I respond with an affirmative, “Oo. Dugay na ko anhi.” (Yes. I’ve been here for a long time.)
“Pila ka buwan?” (How many months?)
“Mga duha ka tuig na man.” (Around two years already.)
Hearing this, some of the other guys join in, and the conversation goes on…
There have been times when the waiting has been too much. Times when a long line or a rainy day has made me want to give up. However, when I do manage to stick it out, it seems that the waiting pays off. There is almost always some experience along the way that made it worth the wait. Sometimes the payoff is something to witness along the way, like when, in a dark crowded bus terminal, I spot a boy blowing bubbles. Sometimes I have to wait until the very end of the journey, when the funding finally comes through, the program comes together, and the youth enjoy an activity that I designed.
I talked with my fellow waiting shed occupants for 10-15 minutes, as we all stared down the road, waiting for what seemed to be my only hope – the potential of a somewhat empty van. They asked about my dog, my living situation, my marital status, and my job (the usual Filipino ‘getting to know you’ questions). As we’re talking, a large white ton-truck pulls up, and a few teenagers jump out of the back, running towards city hall to find the public restroom. The truck idles there for awhile, as we continue to talk about life, the universe, and everything. As our conversation drifts off, one of my new friends goes to talk to the driver. About a minute later, he calls me over. The truck is headed through my town and, since I’m a poor Volunteer and can speak Binisaya, they’d be happy to give me a lift.
In the States, I would never get in to a stranger’s truck. I wouldn’t even risk it in a different part of the Philippines, but Bohol is a very friendly place, and the teenagers sitting in the bed of the truck are very smiley and reassuring (as are the two older women in the back seat). It also didn’t hurt that Cooper and I had been waiting for almost two hours – we were more than ready to get home. So, I thanked my waiting shed buddies profusely, picked up Cooper, and climbed into the back seat with the two older women. We talked for awhile, and they handed me a large bag of banana chips as Cooper curled up and went to sleep on my lap. 45 minutes later, they pulled over to let me out in the middle of my town. As we said goodbye, they joked that I should give the driver my number because he was single too. We both laughed as I woke up Cooper and awkwardly clambered out of the truck. As they pulled away I shouted my thanks one more time before turning to walk home.
Our waiting was done.