Forgotten Voices' Mission:

"Demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by equipping local churches in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of children orphaned by AIDS in their communities."

Monday, January 26, 2009

1/26: Trucking Across Zambia

The story of 11 Jan -- the trip from Ndola to Livingstone

Editors note: It is, with deep regret, that the story you are about to read has NO photographic evidence ... some video evidence is being reviewed, but POOR because of the heavy rains, which kept the camera away for its safety. Oh, how I wish I had seen the joy & story telling future, amidst my intense frustration!!! My apologies to all of you visually inclined people, like me. -Ryan (on behalf of Remmy & Fibion)

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The day I sunk my truck we had left Ndola at 4:15am, with rain coming down lightly, roosters not yet willing to declare the start of the day. I had hired (rented) a 4x4 truck, double cab, to take us on the planned 8.5 hr journey from Ndola to Livingstone -- about 850 km across Zambia, through Lusaka, the nation's capital. Only the last 100 km would require the 4x4.

As I drove the truck in reverse through the metal gated fence, I politely resisted the urge to "hoot my horn" to say goodbye to Remmy's wife, Irene, his niece Ginney, and sister Ruth, who had somberly arisen at the early hour to send us off.

As we pulled on to the pot holed filled Kariba Road to begin our journey to Livingstone, the rains began to fall harder.

I knew then that the planned 8.5 hr drive would be longer than that.

The passengers: Remmy in the front left passenger seat (as driver sits front right in southern Africa), Fibion behind me, and the daughter of a family friend behind Remmy. On our way, we would drop off this young girl at school, 600 km from Ndola. School would begin the next day for most kids in Zambia.

Driving at 4am anywhere is NEVER easy. 1) all people are tired!!! and 2) its dark! VERY dark.

But in Zambia, there are extra challenges a driver may not experience in Boston, Central PA, or most other places in the USA.
1) Cows crossing the highway (or donkeys, dogs, goats, chickens, etc)
2) Police road blocks (there would be 8 in total on this leg of the trip)
3) Big rig trucks commanding the center of the 2 lane highway, often missing a headlight
4) Bikers carrying heavy loads of charcoal to town to sell, choosing drive down the road -- no blinking lights on the bikes, of course. As far as 50km away from Ndola, I saw these brave, early risers walking or riding their charcoal to town. Incredible dedication to make a buck.

These items do not include driving on the left side of the road, with me in the front right driver's seat and shifting gears with my left hand...despite all of this, no stalls -- thank you very much. :)

After about 6am, my rear passengers awoke. Remmy, thank goodness, had stayed awake the whole time -- quiet, but there to talk when I had a question about protocol at police stops and/or when passing trucks & charcoal bikers at night.

We passed through Lusaka at around 8am, then through small towns...then arriving in Choma around 11:30-12pm. 8 hrs of driving down, with the roughest part ahead.

The town where the rough road begins is called Zimba, once most famous for an eye clinic that attracts THOUSANDS of people each year to this small, roadside town of a few hundred people. The clinic is still operating (had a friend get eye treatment there last year with success), but Zimba is NOW more famous for "THE ROAD."

How bad is it?? Some consider it the worst road in southern Africa. The rental place told me they would absolutely NOT allow me to drive unless I had a 4x4. Assuring them I had driven the stretch twice before, they even more confidently assured me the road had worsened WAY beyond what I portrayed.

The HIGHWAY literally stops, with police and barricading cones pointing you right toward a detour just past the edge of "town." You then merge left onto a sandy, clayish substance known only to the locals as "the road", full of canyons and mountains that clearly are better than the blocked off highway if you can believe it. Despite its daunting appearance, I had my doubts about how bad it was, as I eased through the easy first 10k of the 100k. I had traveled thousands and thousands of miles prior, including this stretch 2 times in the past 3 years. BUT WOW!

It was, without a doubt, the WORST road I have EVER SEEN, let alone driven on. Keep in mind, I had been driving for 10 hrs on relatively easy highway at this point. Within 20 min of driving through the heavy rains, which eroded the land further into a mesh of mud -- mildly forming a "road", my legs started to shake.

After about an hour of tormented bumping and turning back and forth, sometimes almost appearing to be going in the opposite direction of our goal for the sake of avoiding large canyons (once considered mere pot holes), we passed a sizable flat bed truck that was inching along. I couldn't imagine the frustration of its driver, as I had a small 4x4 Ford Ranger with powerful, yet agile, control.

Then -- THE RAINS CAME HARD! AND HARDER AND HARDER. My legs were utterly exhausted, but no room to pull over or I would surely sink. When the muds start coming, you gotta keep moving.

As we rounded a bend, we saw a small, white bridge crossing railroad tracks. It was a 1 way bridge, just big enough for a 4x4 like me...and a tight squeeze for a 2 trailer flat bed truck.

This is the scene that would take up so much of my time for the next few hours.

As I approached the bridge, a 2 trailer flat bed truck was coming toward me -- TRYING to get over the small bridge, with me next in line to pass from our end toward Livingstone. I could see it happening before my eyes. It was getting stuck! the slight climb on the bridge was too hard for the truck to get traction in the mud and the small space prevented the truck from gunning it over.

I waited on a firm part of the road, away from the thick mud on either side of the "road." After a few minutes, Fibion jumped out to investigate and use the video camera to capture the moment. Still stuck.

After about 20 more min, I was told that I may be able to go down into a ditch to the right of the bridge, cross the railroad tracks, then drive up a small hill and return to the road on the other side of the bridge.

Fibion, who cannot drive, told me "it is not possible and too risky." Remmy, who can drive and grew up close by, said, "it can be done, but you should come and see."

This story has already gone on WAY too long and has been built up by me and others toooooooo much. You can all guess what happened.

I jumped out of the truck, walked down the ridge, onto the tracks and looked at the hill that I was to climb back on to the road. Without fully walking my truck's upcoming path, I returned to my truck, jumped in and began to descend down into the ditch. I could not wait for the stuck truck any longer.

Well - the first part -- the descent went fine. Across the railroad tracks -- fine. Well, an important part of this situation is to KEEP MOVING and don't stop in mud - especially in ditches. Just as I was about to gun it to make the climb up, 2 people walked out from behind the stuck truck's trailer and stood RIGHT in front of my path. I hit the brakes, beeped, waved, and screamed for them to move. They simply waved back, thinking I was reaching out to them to make sure they felt included in the adventure.

As about 20 people gathered on the side of the road to see if I could do it, I began to sink. I had waited too long trying to wait for the people (1 little girl about 8 yrs old) to move out of my way so I could go up.

At first, it wasn't bad. Then, as I tried to reverse and go forward, over and over, trying to find traction... I kept sinking. Seemingly all 20 people watching started shouting suggestions, each upset with me when I seemingly ignored them to follow the advice of someone else that "chose" to hear over them.

After about 30 min more of trying, I climbed to look out my passenger window to discover that mud was now almost up to my window -- above the wheel well on my left side of the truck. This was bad!!!!

The same 20 people who were standing around simply shook their hands in sadness. Just when we confirmed I was indeed sunk, the "of course" happened...the truck on the bridge got OVER the bridge and the path on the "road" was clear for others to pass.

In the states, that would've happened. Not in Zambia. People watching me, instead of jumping in their cars to race onward, rolled up their sleeves, dove into the mud and began working on ways to get me out. We tried rope, pulling our truck out with other trucks, digging tracks out for me to drive on...using logs, rocks, etc for traction. We tried and tried and tried. All other trucks were pulled toward me, not me going out of the mud. I WAS STUCK!

Then, a 2 flat bed truck came. 1 guy, completely covered in mud from head to toe (wearing a formal, purple dress shirt, black dress pants and leather shoes) dove again into the mud, rigged a metal chain around the base of my car and then connected it to the big rig.

I FEARED the truck wouldn't be able to get me out, as the others hadn't budged me -- except to make me go deeper. I FEARED the mud would hold me under, with the big truck pulling off the front half of my rental truck.

But quite the opposite. FOr just a second, it was in doubt, but then the big truck basically was able to pull me UP and then out.

It took us about 2 hrs to get the 20km left in the trip -- stopping to clean out the mud, pull out tall grass, etc from inside the truck.

I had to pay the guys that helped me -- $160 in total, where the average annual income is about $365/year. Without complaining about the mud or the work, with no promise of anything at the end, my Zambian friends demonstrated again to me why I love this part of the world. When a stranger is in need and no plan can be found, they just keep working hard and saying yes, when no would be clearly more convenient.

After 14.5 hrs of driving halfway across Zambia, we eventually made it to Livingstone well after our targeted time. As we raced across the border, speeding quickly by Victoria Falls...too consumed by the experience we had just had... I forgot to remember that loving our neighbor is a real thing here, lived out everyday.

I'm sifting through video...most of it poor because of the rains. But I hope to have SOME video of the trunk sinking up soon. Stay tuned!

I told you all to pray from 11-13 Jan as we travel across Zambia and Zimbabwe. You were doing that. We knew it and could tell. By God's grace, we returned a safe truck and passed through to Zimbabwe late that night...without problem.

Thanks for reading this long story. Tomorrow's will be far shorter (and better), as I share about chickens & church in Zimbabwe.

For now, bedtime.
-Ryan

1 comment:

Steve Pilgrim said...

That story wasn't too long, it was incredible! Thanks for taking the time to share it in detail, and thanks to God and those amazing helpful bystanders that you are all ok. And an overdue welcome back to the USA to you.