Bus crash doesn’t stop travelers from reaching Quito conference

November 27, 2008
In a gown typical of her native Guajira region, one of the Colombian participants stands onstage at the conference in Quito to share experiences. A bus carrying 14 Baha’is from the Guajira crashed on the first leg of their long trip, yet only one of them had to return home.

QUITO, Ecuador — The series of 41 conferences being held in cities around the world continues to be historic for the Baha’i Faith, not only for the number of participants (over 12,000 and counting) but also for people’s determination to overcome obstacles to get to the gatherings.

The first conferences, which were in Africa, brought stories of people traveling a hundred kilometers or more on foot – a reflection of their eagerness to accept an invitation from the Universal House of Justice and meet with representatives of the supreme elected body of their religion. Meeting Baha’is from outside their locality, in some cases for the first time, was also a big motivation.

Conferences this past weekend brought more tales of sacrifice, determination and attempts to resolve travel problems – sometimes unsuccessfully.

Among the most moving stories was that of the indigenous people of the Colombian Guajira, the arid peninsula at the northernmost tip of South America.

Two friends from the Guajira peninsula look relaxed in Quito after weeks of hurried preparations, followed by a three-day bus ride that was interrupted by a serious accident. Slideshow
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Two friends from the Guajira peninsula look relaxed in Quito after weeks of hurried preparations, followed by a three-day bus ride that was interrupted by a serious accident.

The minute the Baha’is there received the letter from the Universal House of Justice calling them to a conference in Quito, Ecuador, they organized themselves into committees to see how many people they could help make the trip. Finances were only part of the problem. One of the most important committees was the document committee, charged with the daunting task of helping people get national ID cards, passports, and vaccinations in the space of three short weeks.

One rural youth began raising money by taking on as many odd jobs as he could find. He walked all the way to the nearest city to get his vaccination only to be told to return another day, which he did. But in the end he couldn’t go – he is under-age and crossing the border to Ecuador requires written consent from his father, who lives in Venezuela and couldn’t be reached in time. The young man joyfully contributed his hard-earned cash – the equivalent of about US$8 – to help others make the trip.

On the day of departure, 14 Baha’is from the area had managed to get their documents in order and raised or borrowed the minimum funds for a trip to Ecuador. They boarded buses in their regional capital of Riohacha at 4 p.m. the Tuesday before the conference, giving them the three days they needed to reach Quito.

Thirteen hours out of Riohacha, the bus collided head-on with a truck, killing the driver’s assistant, breaking the leg of one of the Baha’is, and virtually destroying the bus. The passengers were taken to the nearest hospital. Among the Baha’i group, it was determined that the one man who was seriously hurt would have to return home but the others, once they were patched up, could continue on.

Now out of money, which had been spent to deal with the accident, the group proceeded, stopping off in the Cali area to join up with other Baha’is – and try to clean their blood-stained clothes before heading out on the final 18-hour leg of their journey.

In Quito, other stories were not as dramatic but still inspiring. A young woman, age 17, upon learning that she wouldn’t be able to travel without getting an ID document from the government, persevered until she reached the governor of her region. He was so impressed by her diligence and desire to take part in the event that he personally granted her the document.

Conferences this past weekend, in addition to Quito, included New Delhi and Kolkata in India, and Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For people traveling from Bangladesh to Kolkata there were severe challenges with documentation. Getting passports rapidly was difficult – the conference was announced on 20 October, leaving barely a month – but current conditions at the border between Bangladesh and India apparently have affected the visa process. About 200 Baha’is in Bangladesh did their best to get the papers they needed, with many of them waiting in line for up to three days at the Indian consulate to apply for a visa. All but 30 were turned away and thus could not go to Kolkata.

Reports on individual conferences: https://news.bahai.org/community-news/regional-conferences/