Thursday, August 20, 2009

Safari Roadtrip: Week 3, Retour

Last time we tuned into the saga of a safari roadtrip, our favorite family of five had just finished a vacation on the Indian Ocean… Now it is time for them to head home:

Day 19: Sunday in Nairobi. Anytime we are able to we enjoy visiting with our favorite Kenyan pastor and his family. I was too sick to attend church this morning, but Kent and the kids went. Later, as Kent was loading up for our big trip back tomorrow I was napping with Anna when I heard a knock on the door, ever so quietly. I wasn’t expecting anyone and wasn’t feeling well so I treated it like a snooze button, figuring it was the guesthouse manager or someone else who would soon go away. Knocking again. Snoozing again. Finally I hear voices, like they are coming in! In a slight panic I rushed to the door to find Pastor Karani and his family coming to visit me because I was ill. How sweet is that? Thankfully Anna didn’t wake up, and we had a lovely visit outside in the garden area. I guess visiting the sick is biblical and all, but we don’t seem to do it much in the US. Maybe it’s because we don’t really seclude ourselves either. Just take cold medicine and keep working, exercising, driving around… Anyway, my ‘hospital procedure’ is early tomorrow morning and I’m not allowed even water to drink after midnight tonight, so off to get a big snack!

Day 20: This morning Kent has to do all the packing and loading on his own. Kind of a nice break for me, except for the need to be in the hospital. I taxied across town at 7am just to beat as much traffic as possible. My appt. was for 8am and in rush hour driving could take an hour. I was early. It was fun to revisit the same wing where Anna was born two and a half short years ago. Still the plush carpets, wide hallways and gorgeous fresh flower arrangements. I still had a raging head cold and couldn’t take medicine, but they let me do the procedure anyway. I don’t remember much past the IV needle and being accidentally called by my middle name. They were putting a camera into my stomach to check it out. I was warned I would feel really groggy the rest of the day, but woke right up after a couple hours and was so bored waiting to get checked out of the hospital that I read a few chapters of my book. For extra fun I was wheeled to another building for an ultrasound of my gall bladder (which was totally normal btw).

Kent was meanwhile wildly packing, dressing kids, loading, doing office stuff and getting pizza for lunch (eat all you can, while you can!) before picking me up and heading out of town. This is our shortest day of driving on the whole trip: Only 4 hrs! Saw more flamingoes from a distance and zebra everywhere. One herd(?) crossed the road in front of us! We arrived at the missionary campsite in the rain and to James’ dismay were given a different cabin (without toys or books). Mac n cheese for dinner helped a little.

Day 21: The LONGEST day! At least this time we expected the cold. We hit the road early after hot oatmeal packets (the stores didn’t have raisins, so we finely chopped apricots and added a dash of nutmeg – it was good. How can you go wrong with brown sugar?) This is the day I learned that finding a good bush/tree is the quickest (and probably cleanest) potty stop, a skill that served us all well over the next three days. Car talk podcasts also helped a lot! We hit the border midday and both boys had accidents (the good news is we had just arrived at the nicest public toilets on the whole trip; the bad news is that we didn’t plan for changes of clothes and had to unload the roof rack to get to their suitcase). I got the kids out and ran them around in the grass while Kent did all the paperwork. What a guy. For various reasons it took us almost 2 hours to get back on the road in Uganda. The roads were great and we made good time. Caught a glimpse of Lake Victoria and got into Kampala just after dinner (sausages and French fries at a roadside tourist trap) to find that our reservations were written down for tomorrow! They had room for us, but the problem was that they had had power outages and no water and very few clean sheets or towels left. After nearly 12 hours in the car and still dealing with the cold (and watching our kids get so excited about a place they recognized and remembered) there was NO getting us back in that car! I told her we would sleep on the floor and use our MSR pack towels if she would only let us stay!! They were super nice and found some ‘uglier’ sheets we could use. And their power came back so we had hot showers! Yes.

Day 22: Today we stayed in Kampala to see doctors and do some shopping. If we can’t get enough done we may stay an extra day. After a rare moment of Email/internet access (while rush hour died down), we headed off to the doctor’s office. Joel was due for his ‘5-yr’ booster shots and I had a bizarre blood blister they eventually froze off. Sorry if that’s too much information. We didn’t finish until lunch, so we took the kids to a local shopping mall for burgers and fries at a food court. We are not really ‘mall’ people. Afterwards we were all SO ready for naps, but there was still tons of shopping to do. Kent decided to drop slightly-comatose me and the napping kids back at the guesthouse and hit the stores with my long list of staples we can’t get in Congo: soft TP, diapers, wipes, silverware, raisins, cinnamon, and good shampoo to name a few. I try to bring in about 3 months worth at a time, so there’s lots of math involved to figure our rates of consumption (good thing God gave me a math teacher and expert planner for a Mom! =))

Kent chose a store that was a bit further away, but most likely to have everything in one trip. The other benefit is that it is the only place in town that accepts credit cards (since we are only in the country 2 days we are using cash mostly for gas or food). SO… off he went filling his cart with James’ help. They pile 2 carts high with the list full of stuff, get to the front to find that the store’s power is out. The registers run on power. The generator is broken. He cannot pay by credit card. He cannot even pay in cash. They are essentially closed (with a store full of customers). They say it will just take a while.
A ‘while’ later he abandons the full carts and screaming customers to get the food items next door at a South African grocery store. He finds everything, buys it and returns while everyone is still waiting at the registers. After about 90 minutes of waiting the store gets up and running again. For whatever reason, they have to start scanning every item over again! With 5:00pm rush hour looming it was stressful to say the least. They made it back by 6:15 and we all spent the dark evening hours sorting and loading shopping bags in the parking lot. The only thing we didn’t get done was shopping for upholstery fabric for our future couches, but I was too sick to care by that point. With 2 more long days in the car to go and no electricity from here on out I decided to start an antibiotic for bronchitis. No use fighting infection while you’re traveling.

Day 23: We had to head out of the city super early to beat traffic. We were in the car in the dark by 6am. Thankfully the kids were getting used to this routine. Somehow I took us for a wrong turn somewhere (foreign city without road signs in the dark at 6am while sick… hm? If I had a MONTH to plan, maybe. =)) We only had to go in circles once and finally left the last we would see of ‘civilization’, whatever that means, for two days. The roads were great, the sunrise beautiful, and lots of children lined the highways walking to various schools. You knew you were near a school when suddenly everyone in sight is wearing the same shade of green, or blue or pink even. We once again saw the glorious Karuma Falls (Kent is convinced they are the falls used in the Bogart’s African Queen movie, which is supposed to be in Congo, but hey). We were all on the lookout for wildlife as we neared the game park entrance, and we were not disappointed. We had seen a wild elephant and rhinos in the distance last time. This time we saw 2 cape buffalo and just at the last minute noticed some splashing in the shallows of the Nile. Kent pulled over just before the bridge and we watched about 50 hippos splashing their ears and hanging out at the edge of the river! Hippos can be elusive, so this was a real treat. Unfortunately our camera battery was dead, so you won’t see pictures from the last day or two of the trip! Boo hiss! We said goodbye to the pavement and pulled into the last stop exhausted.

God blessed us all the same. The guesthouse where we stayed has a few other families living and working there. One is a couple with a 4-yr-old girl named Joy who our children really enjoyed playing with previously. This time Joy looked like she had been waiting for us and was ready to move in! She had all 3 of them over to play at her house, and they invited us over for dinner! This was great because there are no cooking facilities and our dinner was likely to be granola. On top of that after dinner he opened up his bookshop for Kent and spent lots of time networking in ministry. They run a Christian resources mission that acts as both reading room and book seller. They also had lots of materials in French (VERY hard to come by!) Kent came home with children’s Bible stories, materials for pastors, and a comic book version of Christ’s life called “Messiah”. Kent is to bookstore like kids are to candy stores… =) Funny. My Dad’s the same way.

Day 24: THE LAST DAY! We had checked with everyone at the border crossing to see when they open. It’s not like there’s a sign or website to tell you. Everyone said 7:30am. We figured we could show up at 8 and still make it home well before dark, which was our goal. Kent often drinks diet Coke to stay alert while driving, and they now make it in bottles and it is available in Uganda (but not where we live yet). SO, he had purchased some for the road and one or two bottles to bring back and show the Coke merchants at home what he was looking for. Providentially, in the process of loading the car, one of the glass bottles got knocked off the table and, as glass normally does on concrete, shattered into thousands of pieces. Bye soda! We got everything cleaned up and loaded, but it took MUCH longer with a mess like that to deal with. We didn’t arrive at the border until 8:45am. When we arrived we found many others waiting and the crossing locked. Apparently the car registration folks were there at 7:30, but the immigration official arrives when he feels like it. He sauntered in around 9:15, and we were very thankful we didn’t arrive much earlier and waste our time waiting in the car!

The next highlight of the day was taking a wrong turn after we crossed the border. I don’t know if I will ever understand the signs here. Obviously I didn’t get it right and we ended up taking a serious detour through a beautiful old mission station where people used to send their kids to a boarding school and take vacations. I can see why with all the lush green grass, huge wildflowers (can yellow daisies really be 5 ft tall?) and cosmos lining the road under the shadow of towering eucalyptus trees. These mountains really CAN be gorgeous. After our detour we had to get back on the right road. Kent stopped several times masquerading as a Swahili-speaker, and we got the gist that we were finally headed in the right direction. There were definitely a few moments of panic, but all in all we didn’t lose that much time.

Once we found the real road, we came to the stretch currently under construction that was thick with dusty loose dirt (I was sort of hoping our little wrong turn would end up bypassing this stretch of road). And about an hour from home, just at the end of the nasty dirt section and the beginning of the rockier section, we heard what Kent thought was mud hitting the back right wheel well; that ominous thud, thud, thud. Kent pulled over slightly to kick the mud off when he smelled burning rubber and saw our tire had been shredded for some time. It wasn’t mud hitting the wheel well, it was pieces of tire. I asked if we could pull over further to leave more room for big semi trucks cruising by, but Kent said there was no moving the tire.

So it was James and I to jump out and pull up huge weeds to lay in the road (East African flares), and then to count paces back to see how far back the tire bits went, and to pray that the lorries careening around the corner would see my weeds! Looks like we rode on it at least 120 yds before noticing, but the road is so bumpy anyway we didn’t feel a thing! Three or four passersby stopped to help change the tire or offer advice. We offered drinking water and simsim (crunchy baked sesame seeds in sugar like a sweet tahini granola bar – yum) afterward in return. We got back on the road after only 40 minutes or so, thank God. As Kent put the blown out tire on the back door (see picture in previous post), he noticed that it had at least 3 spots that had been repaired in the past. This tire was old when we bought the car. The trouble was we had no way of telling how bad the other 4 tires were… We were not yet in radio contact with friends at home, so we tried texting them so they would know we were driving without a spare and it was nearly dusk. They ended up not getting the message, but we ended up just fine and so happy to be HOME after 24 days on the road! We had 2 friends cooking for us, so we could just rest for a couple days.

3 days later I came down with our first case of malaria, but I’ll save that for a different post! =) Thanks for ‘journeying with us’ over the mountains, across the Nile, equator and Great Rift Valley (and back again) over 1000 miles in 3 foreign countries in 24 days. We would never have made it without so much prayer support!


Holli said...

What an adventure you all are on. I always think it would be a great experience to be a missionary in a foreign land, but when I read this, I am not so sure I could handle it.

I'm glad you all got home safe and sound.

Michelle said...

Hey there! So I haven't been online for a while, so I'm just now catching up with your blog. I LOVE how you write. :)