Friday, 20 August 2010

The Magical Boleia

Disclaimer: Please keep an open mind and ignore everything you have been told about certain things since childhood. This is not America. And I am, as always, super duper careful about my safety and the safety of others and do not take any unnecessary risks. Trust me, this is safer than the alternative.

Of all the impressive technologies we have in the states, we lack one crucial thing that is both vital and found in abundance in Moçambique: the boleia.
The term boleia is used to describe a passing car, truck, van, 18-wheeler, tractor, ox-drawn wagon, bicycle, or other moving object driven by future friends who makes their services available to you at the drop of a hand and completely free of charge. To succeed in attaining this divine transport, one needs only to stand on the side of the road, stretch out right arm to be parallel with the ground and flap the hand slightly and slowly in the direction of the oncoming object. The object will (usually) slow and pull over to your side of the road. You will first poke your head in the window, greet the driver, and ask where he/she is headed. If the driver is going in your directions (and with a grand total of six highways in the country, that's very likely), you open the door/jump in the back/mount the steps/pop the trunk and get in, greeting the driver with the customary "Tudo bem?" Sometimes this is more tricky, as there is often a small flock of arm-flappers in a single location, and space in certain transports is limited. But often it is simply your posse, the driver and preexisting passengers, and the open road.
In the event you are fortunate enough to find yourself in the front passenger seat, you are encouraged but not obligated to 1) provide a listening ear to life stories/marriage proposals/political debates/requests for free transit to America; 2)provide a lap for and tend to wandering crianças/chickens/etc; 3) assist the driver with cell phone, Cokes, etc.
As it is such a widespread means of transport in this country, you can also afford to be selective. Obviously, functioning car, lack of alcohol, women drivers are always a plus. Travelling in groups is imperative (however, as it's often a deterrent for a potential boleia, it's worth it to have one lone female stand on the side of the road, then have your five friends wait in the bushes until she opens the door and gives the signal before swarming the car).

The advantages of boleias are countless, but include:
1) It’s free. And you live on a Peace Corps Volunteer budget.
2) You make all kinds of new friends and very, very quickly get very, very close. Sometimes this can also be a disadvantage.
3) Unlike on a chapa, you often have your own seat.
4) If you are extremely fortunate, your boleia will have air conditioning.
5) Shaves hours off your trip, since there’s no reason to stop every five feet to pick up/drop off more passengers, unlike chapas.
6) Significanly decreases the chance of painful chicken pecks to the feet and/or chicken refuse on shoes.
7) CHAPAS ARE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH. Period. Their sole purpose is to get as many people as possible to their destination in as little time as possible so it can pick up as many more people as people to transport them in as little time as possible to another location, etc. etc. through whatever means necessary because more people, less time = more money. Personal transports, as you can imagine, have a very different set of priorities. Like safety. Graças a Deus.

Some of my favorite past boleias:
1) Covered truck to Inhambane City – Jenna, Clancy and I stretched out, used our backpacks as pillows and slept the whole seven hours from Macia straight to our drop-off in Inhambane City. Our driver even stopped at a gas station to use the casa de banho halfway through.
2) Car from Xai-Xai to Macia – nice Indian guys not only assured me that I could call them for a boleia from my doorstep anytime but also offered me authentic Indian candies (“It’s not drugs,” one assured me as I tried to read the foreign script on the package).
3) Car from Macia to Maputo – driven by one of the only 1000 doctors in this country, he also hooked me up with drinks and let me take a little nap in between hearing stories about his studies in Portugal and Ukraine (I can still imagine it…the wise old native doctor and the young idealistic travelling girl swapping stories when he reaches into the back and offers me a glass bottle of Coca-Cola and takes one can of Coke Lite for himself and we toast to the development of Moçambique before drinking…can you get a more stereotypical Coca-Cola commercial?)
4) 18-wheeler from Inharrime to Chicumbane – myself and three other boleia-ers hung out inside the cabin of a sweet 18-wheeler, complete with bunked beds and sound system rockin’ James Blunt, Tracy Chapman and Shania Twain for five hours.

1 comment: