The Last Great African Adventure of 2013
Saturday (10/19/2013) started off to be just another Saturday here in Uganda, which should have been my first warning to stay home. We were going to the introduction for Bishop Gogo’s youngest brother. An introduction is where the young man is introduced to the bride’s family and pays the bride price. The bride price is the custom where the man gives gifts to the bride’s family for their daughter’s hand in marriage. It’s a great time of celebration for the young couple getting married. Since I don’t understand the local language I’m never sure what’s going on but it’s a big deal for the families involved. There is a lot laughing and carrying on so it seems that everybody is having fun at the expense of the soon-to-be-wed couple. Now these thing usually go on all day long with food and fun being had by all. It’s hard to describe so let’s just say it’s one of those things that you just have to be there and see for yourself.
On Friday night, in a typical mzungu (white guy) fashion, I ask the typical mzungu questions: What time do we need to leave? Where are we going? How far is it? Bishop Gogo very casually said we need to leave at 10:00 and we will be going around to the other side of the mountain that we haven’t been to yet. It should take about an hour to get there and the roads are pretty good so it should be an easy trip. This is where I should have listen to that still small voice that was saying, “Beg off sick or something! Stay home!”
Saturday arrives and Bishop goes to pick up the car that we will be renting for this trip. I start getting ready at around 9:15. At 10:00 there is no Bishop and no car so I ask Mabel if she has heard from the Bishop. She tells me something. I not really sure what she says to me but it sounds good. At 11:00, the Bishop shows up with the car and tells me that his brother and his friends are still in Mbale buying stuff for the introduction and that we will meet them in just a little while. I then see Mabel leavening the house going somewhere walking. After a little bit, I ask the dumb mzungu question, “Where’s Mable?” Bishop tells me that she has gone to have her hair done. Of course, I should have known that! It’s just 11:15. No problem. At 11:30 Bishop tells me that he is going back into town to check on what’s going on. Now this is a cultural in which everybody has cell phones so I’m thinking, “Why not just call?” But hey, this is Africa (TIA). What do I know? I’m a mzungu, right?
At around 12:00, Mabel gets back from having her hair done and I’m thinking, “It won’t be long now!” Bishop shows back up at around 12:30 and says that we will be leavening in a little while. I’m still wondering what happen to 10:00 but, hey, TIA. At 1:00 Bishop starts telling me that they are ready to go, like I’m holding this whole thing up, so I throw on my shirt grab my stuff and head to the car thinking that (remember, I’m a mzungu ) I’m holding up the show. Ten minutes later we are ready to go, maybe.
Off we go to meet everyone in Mbale to head to wherever it is we are going. Now I’m trying to do a little math in my head about how much time this is going to take us and what time we might be getting home. I keep coming up with “REALLY LATE”. Now traveling in Uganda during the daytime can be quite an adventure but at night it’s another world!!!! Now you read and hear warnings about how is not the best idea to travel at night in Uganda. There are reasons for that. So now I’m getting a little worried but hey, I’m with the Bishop, right? When we get to Mbale and finally hook up with everyone, we now become part of transporting of gifts.
I think there must be a law about vehicles occupancy in Uganda. Apparently, you cannot go outside your town without the vehicle being full. I’m talking about every square inch of space taken up. We are in a Toyota Corolla which is a mid-size car at best. Up goes the trunk, or as they say here the boot, and in goes the first 200 lb bag of sugar and then we get serious about filling up the boot. Eventually, no more can fit in and I’m thinking, “Finally, we are ready to go.” Nope! Now it’s time to take the Bishop’s brother to the bank and then we go looking for the guy that’s going to video this whole deal. We find him and wait for him to get his stuff together. OK now we can go. Nope not yet, now we take this guy a couple of places to pick up more of his gear for the video. I’m thinking, “Somebody is paying this guy???” Finally, we are really ready. We leave Mbale about 2:00 pm and I start to have the feeling that this is going to be a long day.
We have about 400 lbs in the trunk (boot) and 5 adults in the car, so I’m thinking the roads had better be good! Mmzungu wrong again. For the first half of the trip, the roads are not too bad but eventually we get to the BAD roads. I knew they were coming, I just didn’t know when. So here we go!!! Now usually this is where I start playing my little betting game of “butt and head”, but the car is so over loaded that there is not much bounce in the shocks. We basically have the shocks bottomed out and the bottom of the car is dragging the ground as we go over the ruts and thru mud holes.
The area that we are traveling thru is a valley that slowly climbs up into the mountains. At first, this is a wide valley but it slowly narrows as we climb. The farther we go, the worse the road gets and the narrower the valley becomes. But I have to say that if I was a farmer, which I am not, this is where I would want to be. It looks as if, when you plant a seed, you would have to jump out of the way because it would grow so fast!!!!!
We finally get to our turn off of the main road. Right, that’s not a typo. I said turn off of main road or maybe I should have said main mud hole since it rained earlier in the day. We stop to buy some more stuff, drinks and a big bag of something. Then they hire some boda boda (motorcycle taxis) to take it up to where we are going because, remember, the car is way past full. One of the boda boda guys is asking me if we need rides. I’m trying to tell him, “No, we have the cars” and he starts giving me that look. You know that look like “Are you crazy?” Well, I’m thinking that I’m getting the look because I’m a mzungu. Very shortly I’m going to find out that is not the case. I’m getting that look because he thought that we all were crazy and I came to agree with him.
We turn off the main mud hole road and cross a bridge (that they would not even let you walk across in America) in order to go farther up into the mountains on a very deeply rutted and slick section that is part foot path, part road. We come to the place where the road begins to seriously go up the mountain and I begin to see why the boda boda driver was giving me that look. We are head UP, really up. I’m talking going up a 50 degree incline of deep ruts and very slick red African dirt. I mean VERY slick. I’m thinking, “You’re kidding, right?”
We have come upon two stuck cars on the road ahead of us and Bishop is blowing his horn like that’s going help. Now it’s time for an African conference on how to get out of this mess. If you haven’t seen one of these conferences take place, you really should. It’s a trip! Everybody piles out of the cars, and I do mean everybody, and goes up to the first car that’s stuck so they can starts yelling all at once at the poor driver as if this is all his fault. Everybody stands around voicing their ideas and solutions to the problem all at the same time. Some of them are in favor of pushing the car up. I’m thinking, “Guys, you are only going to get maybe another 20 feet or so up this hill before you get stuck again.” But I’ve learned that, as a mzungu, my ideas are usually wrong so I decide not to say anything and just see how this goes.
I’m wrong about how far they will get. A bunch of guys get behind the vehicle (each dressed up with nice clothes and dress shoes) and start to push. Everyone is yelling, pushing and yelling some more. The driver is flooring it, the guys are pushing and off they go, slinging mud everywhere. It’s rear wheel drive so everybody’s getting covered with mud but they are moving and yelling. They make it all of 10 feet before the vehicle bottoms out in the ruts. Yep, I admit that I was wrong. I felt sure they could get at least 20 ft. Like I’ve said, “What does a mzungu know in Africa?” But I’m thanking God and thinking, “At least we happen to be at a place where we can back down and get turned around while it’s still daylight.”
They finally get everybody down and turned around and we start walking up this hill. I just couldn’t help myself and asked another dumb mzungu question, “How far is it to where we are going?” As near as I can tell, Africans can be very hard to understand when they get excited. I think they are saying with hand gestures, “Not far. Just right there.” So off we go. Now “right there” translates to about 1.5 miles up what, just out of sight around the curve, becomes a 45 to 60 degree incline. The way this works is as you climb a short section and come to a curve, then it climbs some more. Everybody says we are almost there each time we get to a curve, like it’s just after the next 45 to 60 degree section.
As we get higher and higher, the view becomes awesome! On one side you can see a long way back down the valley all the way out to the plains that stretch to Jinja on the other side and in front of you, you can see the peaks of Mt Elgon about 14,000 feet high with the rain pouring down a valley that is going to lead right to where you will be. We are getting pretty high up now around 7,000 feet. I’ve discovered that after 5,000 feet it becomes harder for me to get a breath so I’m huffing and puffing trying to not slip and bust my *%#$!!!!
We finally get to (or should I say I finally get to) a very small village sitting on a narrow ridge that drops off into valleys. This is where they are having the introduction. As we are waiting to go into the tent, I realize that I have my sunglasses on and that I’ve left my clear glasses in the car! Now I’m freaking out thinking about trying to get back down this mountain in the dark with sunglasses. I’m not even sure that I could make it down in the daylight with the rain and the road path getting even slicker!
We just make it into the tent as the rain starts. Now tents in Africa all seem to have lots of holes so I’m sitting in the tent trying to keep as much of me as possible out of the drips with my feet in a mud puddle. Yep, THIS IS AFRICA. Seating in the tent in the rain I realize that there is no way that I’ll be able to get back down this mountain in the dark with sunglasses, maybe even in the rain. So I get Bishop Gogo to the side and explain the problem to him. I tell him that I will have to leave while it was still light enough for me to see, which was only about an hour away.
After about an hour of not really understanding anything that was going on, it was time for me to leave. I got the car keys, got out of my seat and my mud puddle, and slipped out the back. (I have a new understanding of the term SLIP out the back.) So here I go headed back down, slipping and sliding along, all by my lonesome hoping that I don’t fall and break something that will require them to carry me off this mountain. Forty five minutes of slipping and sliding later, I finally make it back to the car just as it begins to get dark. I have now reached a milestone in my life here in Africa; I have gone up a mountain and I have come down a mountain, both without falling down!!!!!!!!!
After getting to where we left the cars and watching it get darker and darker, it begins to dawn on me that I’m sitting in a car in the middle of the jungle somewhere in Uganda with no idea of where I’m at and, because of the mountains all around me, I have no cell phone service! (Not that it matters. After all, who would I call anyway?) Did I mention that it is getting really dark with a low cloud cover not helping? I begin to think about where I’m at, in the middle of a jungle up in the mountains, and it reminds me of the old Tarzan movies. I swear if someone had started beating a drum I would have wet myself!!!!!! Thank you Jesus, no drums!!!! Now the mind is a funny thing, it’s going to bring up all kinds of stuff that you don’t want to think about at a time like this. I’m trying to think about a nap, but my mind flies off in every direction imaginable. Things like, “If you disappear your body will never be found” and “Do they still eat people up here?” I didn’t say that it made any sense but that’s just the way the mind, with a little help from you know who, gets to going. Now I know that I’ve got to take every thought captive so I begin to pray and sing a very deeply inspired song:
OH LORD, WON’T YOU BUY ME A RANGE ROVER
MY FRIENDS ALL DRIVE FORDS.
I’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE!!!!!!!
Well that did it! It put everything back into focus and I realize that I was the goofball that said he wanted to live a life of adventure in Africa so sit back and enjoy!!!! After that, I get out my iPad, put on some music (a little IHOP worship hit the spot), close my eyes, imagine myself back at a Friday night and a Sunday morning with all of you guys, and just chill for a while, 3 hours actually. Everybody finally gets back to the cars about 9:30 pm and we make it home around 11:00 pm. I was right earlier. It was going to be a long day.
Sunday, Bishop and Mabel tell me that a third of the people had fallen on their way down the mountain at night. Some of them even got a little blooded up. So even though a mzungu doesn’t know much, at least THIS mzungu knows enough that, at 63, he’s not going to try and come down no slick African path/road in the dark!!!!
I’m so glad that I took Bishops Chuck’s word to heart!!!!! Oh you know the word that I’m talking about, it’s the same word that you hear every day in your own hearts;
GO FOR IT!!!!!!!!
LOVE YOU GUYS.
YOUR PRAYERS HAVE KEPT ME WHILE I’VE HAD THIS CHANCE TO LIVE OUT A GREAT ADVENTURE WITH OUR LORD.
(Sorry there aren’t any pictures but the weather was just too bad to get out a camera, plus the fear of busting my *%#$ in the mud!!!!! I did that once with my camera and it took 20 minutes to get the mud off of it.)