Slice of Life, Midday on June 20th 2019: A Conversation On The Bus

I exit the office in Port Vila and see a bus double-parked on the other side of the road, empty of passengers. An empty bus means a quicker journey.

A woman selling Digicel Top-Up has stepped out from under her umbrella perched beside the road to talk to the bus driver through the window. She is putting credit on his phone.

"Au Bon Marche [a grocery store]?" I tell him my destination through the window, checking to see if he'll take my fare. He nods me inside.

As I arrange my bags on the first row of seats and slide the door closed, he finishes his transaction. "250 vatu," she tells him. "But I already paid," he jokingly responds. The woman rolls her eyes. He reaches into the dashboard and passes 250vt to the woman.
"Ta," he says. "Thank you," she responds.

The driver turns up the radio as he switches gears and pulls forward onto the road. I look out the window as we move our way through the mild midday traffic.

Abruptly, he shuts off the music. In a cheery, light voice, he asks in Bislama, "Yu blo wea?" [where are you from?]

"United States," I say. I'm not one for small talk with strangers during brief encounters, but I give in.

Our conversation continues in Bislama.

He asks, "How long have you been in Vanuatu?"

"Two years."

"You like Vanuatu?"

I provide my standard, small talk answer. "Yes, its nice. The people here are nice."

At an intersection, the driver slams the brakes as another bus cuts us off. The other driver shouts profanities, shielded by his closed windows. My driver shakes his head. "People here, they talk too much and can't drive! Not like in your country." His face softens. "So, are you here on a contract?"

"Yes, for Peace Corps."

He gives a pleasant smile. "Peace Corps, really?! Wow."

He continues, with sincerity: "Thank you, all of you, for the hard work you do. Thank you for dedicating your time to the people of Vanuatu."

I smile and chuckle. "Thanks. Which island are you from?"


Malekula is shaped like a dog. I ask the typical, "What part of the dog are you from?"

"Behind the ear. North east. [name of village]"

I recognize the village's name. "Ah, there's a friend of mine there, another volunteer! She has been there for two years, and is extending for another."

"OK." He quickly changes subjects again. "So do you have a man?"

"No, I don't need one!"

His face hardens as he looks at me through the rear view. "So, you're selfish." It's not a question this time.

"Not selfish. Independent."

"No no no," he presses. "You need to have a man and have children."


He starts talking with few breaths between words, releasing all of his thoughts at once. "You need to live for your purpose. You need a man. You need to go to your church and have a pastor pray over you. He needs to make you change your ways."

He clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "No good."

"No, it isn't no good, its just different."

"Why don't you want a man and children?"

I explain, "If I had a man and children, I wouldn't be here right now. I wouldn't be able to travel here and meet the people whom I have met."

He sighs. His face is more relaxed now. "OK. That is your life choice."

"Yes, it's my choice."

His face quickly brightens as we near my stop. Cheerfully, he asks, "Is this your stop?"

I smile. "Yes."

His eyebrows pop up and he smiles as he peeks at me in the rear view mirror. "Where exactly? At the front of the lot or pull over by the side?"

"Side please."

"Ok!" He pulls over by the side and I pass him the 150 vatu. As the money touches his hand, he says a cheery "Thank you!"

I remove my bags from the seat onto the concrete. As I slide the door closed, I say, "Have a nice day."


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