I spend hours on the bus in a month, and, perhaps, as many waiting for buses. It’s normal now. I’m not allowed to drive any vehicle or ride a motorcycle (thanks Peace Corps rules). Cars are scarce. I walk a lot, but walking has limits. However, despite the hours of sitting and the crowded rides, I like the bus. The bus is a perfect window into humanity. All kinds of people ride the bus–rich and poor, old and young, educated and uninformed, friendly and grumpy…just about everyone.
On many bus rides in Paraguay I have been reminded that chivalry and kindness are not only part of nostalgia and history. They are alive and well. A good illustration of their perseverance occured on a recent bus ride to the grocery store. It is a half hour trip to relatively urban center.
I was sitting on the bus looking at nothing in particular and thinking about something that has since been forgotten. A passenger stood. Bus stops are not a thing in most of Paraguay; one can get on and off the bus just about anywhere. To get on one flags the bus driver down much like one might a taxi. To get off one pulls a string that sounds a bell up by the driver. The passenger who stood was a particularly petite, young woman. I noticed her because of her slightness and because she was holding a fine, fat baby. Buses in Paraguay jolt and rattle, such that it is almost always necessary to hold on to something at all times or risk toppling over. The unsteady footing is even more likely to fling a child down the bus isle than an adult. The woman carrying the baby in one arm and holding a handrail in the other charged quickly to the back of the bus to pull the string and to get off. As she moved away from her seat a toddler, perhaps three, started to follow her. Toddlers are goners on the bus if someone doesn’t hold their hand. They forget to steady themselves and they move like rag dolls.
My gaze, and those of all the passengers between the open seat and the back door of the bus, moved from the woman to the child about to embark on a rocky road. I worried for a moment, but hardly a moment. A man across from the boy reached out his hand, grabbed the boy’s arm, and steadied him as he teetered along. When the man’s reach was exhausted, a woman took hold of the boy. The boy continued walking, passing onto the guiding hand of a third person. The boy made it upright and not phased to the door and got off after his mother.
Three strangers stepped in to help a child without a word or pause. They were not asked and they were not thanked. If that is not humanity, I do not know what is.