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Alumni in the News
A 4.5 Cent, 90-Minute
Bus Ride In Nepal

By Gordon Claassen, Class of`69

     WE LEFT Dh'n, East Nepal, at 7:00AM and caught a bus to the town where the airport was located, an hour and a half away... My colleague and I sat right up front and got to watch every move of the driver - a young, short fellow who, stretching as far as he could, had trouble pushing the cutch pedal all the way m the floor. His homemade driver's seat was unadjustable! The bus was very obviously of "fabrication locale" as we termed it in Zaire, and the welding jobs were uneven and lumpy... can just guess what sod of shade-tree workshop was its birthplace, and the young apprentice boys who learned how to weld on this bus who-knows-how-many-years-ago. When the transmission went out and was replaced with a different model, they just left the gearshift lever hole in the floorboards where it had been and cutout a new one!

     This driver was obviously familiar with his bus, for when he had to turn, he'd give the huge grubby, well-wore steering wheel a spin-like shove the other way. The first time I saw him do it I wondered if it had come loose -- it free-wheeled for close to 180 degrees before beginning to make a difference in the angle of the wheels! Fascinating to watch this cool-dude driver deftly handle that wheel and place the bus just where he'd planned!

     The cassette player, ever-present on buses in this sub-continent, was stationed somewhat to the right and in front of that huge steering wheel, and the tapes (without covers, of course) were mixed among an assortment of odds and ends in an old dear plastic 1-liter oil container cut to fit the purpose, which was screwed into the exposed body framework, head-level at the driver's right side. What odd-'n-ends? Oh, the usual... a tooth-paste tube, 2 toothbrushes, combs and I think I even saw a spoon handle sticking out, He'd take a tape out, blow it off, and place it in the coverless-and-exposed-to-the-dust tape slot. The music was full of static, scratchy, and was obviously being played in a versatile variable-speed machines.

     A bucket 3/4 full of water was taking a ride in a privileged place of its own -- right in the middle of the aisle near the motor, hampering access to two rows... and occasionally the people sitting closest to the aisle there would get "rained on". Everything has a reason (not always logical to us)... and the usefulness of the bucket became apparent when at one of the many stops, the 'boy-chauffeur' came with a tin can and began dipping in it to pour the water into a brass funnel sort of receptacle up on the dashboard. Having emptied the bucket, he ran out into one of the chai shops and soon appeared with the bucket 3/4 full again... prepared for the next filling... a 30 minute run from there!

     We arrived at our stop within acceptable time or as per schedule... usually do... despite what might happen with the mode of transportations we take! It is, after all, totally about experience and know-how! I've got to hand it to them... they sure have both. No simple purchasing a new pad and installing it out here. Nope: wire it, whack it, weld it, wheel it out and down the road you go! That makes me wonder: when I get back home I'll have to ask our office manager if our supplemental life insurance company has some stipulations on what kinds of vehicles we're OK'd to ride in.

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