paas: fare (for a bus, taxi, kaar-rapide, etc.)

The kaar-rapide is packed to the brim like sardines, with the rows and rows of benches filled four-to-a-bench. There is no aisle—the middle seats fold up, but right now they are all folded down and occupied. Will and I file in and squeeze our way through.

It is an intensely communal experience inside a kaar-rapide. People who were strangers minutes ago engage in lively conversation. Will and I, as the two tubaabs (white people, non-Africans) are the center of attention. Tubaabs, degg nañu Wolof! Our fellow passengers marvel at the few words of conversation we know.

The man on the row next to me needs change for his bill. I watch with amazement as passengers give him their coins. But he doesn’t pay them back! I don’t understand until the boy working the back of the kaar-rapide sticks his head in. Seen paas! He yells. (Your fares!)

The people in the back rows hand him their coins. If the coin is too big, he gives them change. But soon he reaches a dilemma—without an aisle, he can enter the kaar-rapide no further. My row leans all the way back to hand him our money. The man next to me hands his bill to the boy—Trois personnes, he says. Ah, I see. He has paid the fare for the two others who gave him coins, and so does not need to pay them back.

But how will the several rows in front of us reach the kaar-rapide attendant? Suddenly I watch as hands pass back bills from the front in chaotic movements. And sitting in the middle of the kaar-rapide, it is up to me! I take the bills from the sea of hands and give them to the attendant—Trois personnes, quatre personnes—I relay the number of fares being paid for and pass the change forward.
Will grins at me. You’re right in the middle of it all! he says.

Not shortly after, our fellow passengers turn to me and Will. Get off here, they tell us in Wolof. Wacc ngeen fii. It’s our stop!

Totally disoriented by the twisting and turning journey taken by the kaar-rapide, we step off and find ourselves—magically, serendipitously—on the very street of our walk home. We blink, disoriented in the amber and rose sunset light. Birds circle the mosque, dark delicate shapes against the orange sky. After all the wonderful chaos within the kaar-rapide, this moment feels like we have stepped off of a magic carpet or out of an enchanted wardrobe to find ourselves here, again, home.


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