The cross-country bus was an old repurposed American school bus. It had been painted over in blue and white, but one could still make out the decal topography of “Monroe Community Schools” across the sides and back.
It was punishingly humid and I, like the other tourists, was covered in a sheen of sweat by the time we pulled out of the dusty station twenty minutes late. The bus had been waiting for the delivery-boy of a merchant who wanted to get a few large bags of rice on the bus. It was aggravating to have human paying passengers wait on a low-cost commodity like rice, but it made perfect business sense. We’d, at best, take the return trip, but the merchant shipped via the express bus every day.
I came to curse our wait once more. Had we not gotten a late start we might not have been blockaded by a band of guerillas. The sweaty bearded men were wearing various schemes of olive-green and camouflage clothing. They were a motley army, disheveled and unorganized, but intimidating enough to exact perfect behavior from the entire bus – including two clamorous children who had destroyed any and all peaceful moments in the cramped bus, but excluding one old man who spoke out against the guerillas but was ignored as a coo-coo not worth the trouble.
The leader came to the back of the bus, where the group of us gringos resided. We all had the same thought, that he was going to exact some vengeance for perceived or real imperialist activities by our various home governments. Then he spoke.
“Any of you go to Texas A&M?” He said in accented, but perfectly correct, English.
There was silence, but heads shook in the negative.
“I’ve got a kid brother who goes there.” He said.
“It’s a great school, he must be quite a scholar.” I said trying to expand on the cordiality.
“I’ve got a research partner from there.” One of the other’s said following suit.
“Well that tuition is expensive. So if you wouldn’t mind terribly kicking in…” He said, flipping his hat over so the worn sweat-stained liner showed.
We each put $20 dollars or so in, and he seemed happy with that. Most of us had followed advice to keep some money aside so you wouldn’t have to open up your wallet or money belt when you got mugged.