Infamous Unfortunate: Memoirs of Kumsari Part 2


There are a number of occupational hazards associated with being a kumsari. Any job that necessitates dealing with a large number of people at a close range has its dangers. For example, jailers and their prisoners; teachers and their students; waiters and their customers; and kumsaris and their passengers. The general area of Khartoum is geographically not that big; however due to the amount of traffic, the quality of the streets and the number of traffic police, a journey from Bahri Almazad to Alsoug Alarabi that would take around ten minutes in any other country would be completed in a little over an hour in Sudan. A whole hour with a large number of people of various sizes and tempers, in various weathers and financial situations.

Ibrahim is generally a nice person with a mild temper. It comes from listening to all sorts of things on the radio that plays 24/7 on old Zooba’s prehistoric stereo. When you take out all the crappy music and bland talk shows, there are various educational and cultural topics that teach Ibrahim a lot about the world beyond his. He is listening to one particular radio show on a particularly sunny morning on his second run to the downtown, while strolling down the aisle and jingling his change at the passengers; a polite way to ask them to please pay the required fare instead of the usual snapping of fingers in their faces which he sees as vulgar.

‘Miya tani’, he smiles, as a blue-clad man hands him a few coins short of the standard fare. The man glares at his impudence and growls that he doesn’t have it and looks away. Ibrahim moves a couple of rows down and encounters another incomplete payment. This time it’s a young woman in a police uniform who doesn’t even look up from her magazine as he asks for the rest. Ibrahim stays put for a while jingling his coins and wondering if these people know the amount of money Abbashar pays for taxes, gasoline, spare parts, bribes and tickets and then decides it’s not worth it. He moves on and looks up to find 8 boys in school uniforms crammed into the back row, smiling at him over their transport cards and one penny each. Ibrahim stares back at them, wondering how they got on the bus in the first place. Students are allowed to pay half the original fare for transport and are every bus driver and kumsari’s worst enemy. In an effort to make up for the lost money drivers allow only 4 students per bus. These kids obviously got in through the windows.

Ibrahim collects his change in disgust and moves back to the front of the bus, climbing over legs and bags and middle seats, to count the loss and calculate everyone’s change. He leans out the window and breathes in the dusty afternoon air. The scenery around him changes from hair salons and restaurants to shop fronts and service buildings. The main referral children’s hospital Ahmed Gasim to his left flanked by the area’s electricity plant, and to his right a number of shop fronts and dry cleaners. The roads are dusty and broken, with a wide range of pedestrians walking in all directions including across the street without warning: men old and young, women old and young, children homed and homeless, dogs, goats, donkeys, a cat or two. They pass the traffic light and pull over to let passengers heading to Omdurman off and those heading to Bahri on. Abbashar revs the engine a few times to hurry people up; this traffic light is particularly infested with traffic police. Slowly they move down the road, old Zooba chugging and creaking as Abbashar expertly swerves out of the way of pot holes and rocks on the street. A passenger snaps his fingers to be let off and Ibrahim whistles and leans out the window again to signal their destination to the people on the road as they stop in front of Saad Gishra, a large, popular market place where anything can be found: silk from India and Dubai, shoes and sandals from Turkey, children’s clothes from China, whitening creams and relaxers from KSA and gold both fake and real. There are black market money changers, tailors and shoe shiners, book sellers and traditional healers and you can fix everything and anything for a small price. It is an important stop on the Bahri line and a number of people get off as others crowd around the door to get on. Ibrahim leans on the side of the bus looking up and down the street until Abbashar starts moving and then he hops back on. They’ve only gone a few meters however when a voice screeches at them to halt.