Before I begin I’d like to highlight something. The Saint Paul Area Synod is putting together a trip to Tanzania for May for young adults (age 19 to29). If you know of anyone who might be interested in this here’s a link: http://www.spas-elca.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/YATrip-2017-Info-Sheet-Update.pdf. Makes me want to be young again.
We spent a lot of time in our bus going to different places. Mostly it was a vehicle for getting to where we were going. But there were a few times where the ride itself became an adventure and gave us glimpses of Tanzania that we would have otherwise missed.
Our driver thought that maybe the size of our bus wheels and the length between the front and the back were in some sort of harmonic convergence with the equipment that is used to maintain roads. Whatever it was, once we got off paved roads if felt like driving over a washer board. For miles at a time. Watch the window in the short video below.
Not too long after we entered the Great Rift Valley on our way to Ruaha the villages were becoming farther and farther apart. Suddenly in the middle of nowhere our bus pulled over. The driver got out and went to the front of the bus where he lied down on the ground looking up into the engine next to the passenger side tire. Hmm, not a good sign.
To understand the significance of what happened next, I need to backtrack a little. When we would drive on dirt roads as you can imagine there would be quite a bit of dust. The picture below is the back of our bus after we stopped at Image school. As we were leaving Image the Bega Kwa Bega person who was accompanying us that day, Frank, pointed out some writing in the dust next to the door to me. “That’s Swahili, it means ‘wash me’.” When we’d be driving there would also be some dust in the air in the bus. In the video I took on our way back that day two people in the bus were attempting find ways to not breathe the dust.
Now I can go back to our story. The driver came back in the bus. To look at the engine, he had to be in the bus and there was a hatch in the floor that could be lifted up.
When he opened it up the bus quickly filled with steam and fumes that smelled just like an old radiator. There was a mass exodus from the bus to avoid the fumes. Everybody except the bus driver and two others. I would say something about who were those masked men, but they were no longer masked. They were just sitting in the bus reading their books.
The bus was leaking. It wasn’t the radiator, but it was a hose coming from the radiator. Ed Taylor was one of our group members who farms in southern Minnesota, so he knows a bit about engines from working with tractors. He assisted our bus driver and they managed to get us mobile again so we could make it to the next village.
At the next village, we stopped. It wasn’t much of a village, but they provided several gallons of water for us to replenish the radiator. While we waited for the radiator to cool enough so they could refill its reservoir most of us again left the bus. We attracted a group of children who were watching. I saw a few small mangoes that had fallen from the tree where we were parked. So, I picked up a few and started trying juggle to amuse the kids. I was out of practice, so they got quite a few laughs at my drops.
Our driver, Esas, managed to take a piece of wood and whittle it into a plug for a temporary fix. Once we were filled up we were ready to go. From there we made one more stop at a slightly larger village where there was a store. Esas stopped and went into store. He came out with a couple one-liter bottles. It wasn’t the right color for water. Then he opened the lid for the gas tank and we realized what he had just purchased. Once we left Iringa and the paved roads, there were no more gas stations.
On our way back, after visiting the park we stopped at a village closer to the park. It was a larger village. They were able to fabricate a part for Esas to make a more permanent fix to the radiator. How long would it take? “40 minutes.” Even though it was said in English, we knew that translated from Tanzanian time to our time that meant, “I don’t know for sure, but it will be more than 40 minutes.”
With our latest fix in place we were good to go. We made a rest stop in Kidamali, but not at the church. There was a Greek Orthodox church right on the road that Esas thought would be easier to get in and out. So we made a stop there which turned out to be longer than a quick rest stop as we waited for the radiator to cool down. If I had realized how long it would be I could have run up to the visit our companion church quickly.
After that the bus performed just fine. Until…
We were staying in Mwatasi and were returning from visiting Bomalang’ombe school. We almost made it back. But a flat tire. They should be able to change that quickly. Except of course the tool for getting the spare out of its storage place was missing. A crowd gathered. The lug nuts could not be loosened with just the wrench we had. Maybe if we could find a pipe that we could put over the wrench to get us more leverage? And suddenly two men from the crowd were on their motorcycles going in different directions in search of a pipe. One of them returned with a pipe they had gotten from another bus. Still no luck, so most of us decided to make the hike back to where we were staying as it wasn’t too far. Not too long after we got back the bus pulled in. They had pumped up the tire with a bicycle pump and driven it up to the church so they could work on it there.
The next day the bus was ready to go. They had taken the tire off and taken it to be repaired overnight. On our way back to Iringa at one point we pulled alongside another bus. Our driver stopped and opened his window. He passed the borrowed pipe back to the other bus and we were back on our way.
Our bus trips are a great metaphor for the picture of life is a journey. Sometimes the road is paved. Sometimes it’s a rough road. You’ll have days where things run smooth. Other days you’ll have problems. But if you’ve developed relationships with the good people on your bus, you’ll find that it’s bearable. And remember God is driving your bus, he’ll take care of things and get you where you need to be.
Note: The two pictures of the bus were taken by Tom Olson from our group and are used with his permission. Thanks Tom.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.