Sunday, September 6, 2009

Travel Story - #2

Hi All!
We're back in Kara and on our way to Tsevie, the new training site for
volunteers. Nathan and I will be there for a week attending a
training on how to train the new volunteers. We're excited to do
something different for a week, but I already miss Asher ;-) He's at
Rachel's for the week. It's been rainy rainy here. I've included a
story I wrote last week. While this story is unique it is a good
glimpse of travel here. This morning, we drove through 50 cows (with
large horns!) on motorcycles. While I enjoy motorcycles and do find
them a great chance to watch the landscape and enjoy the beauty of
Togo, there are other times that I am on the motorcycle and wonder
"Where am I? What am I doing here?!!" You will understand better
after reading this....Enjoy!


Two days after Sarah and Brad departed in August, I left Lome for
village. All was going smoothly and according to plan, and I arrived
late afternoon in Niamtougou. If I have not mentioned it before (or
you forgot!), Niamtougou is a small town located on the national
"highway," about 20k from village. It is where Nathan and I pick up
our weekly mail. I got off the taxi in Niamtougou and began to look
for a motorcycle (we call them "motos") to take me to Pessare. This
should have been easy except the sky was grey and rain was on its way.
As much as I have tried over the last months to predict Togolese
weather, it is often impossible. Weather changes quickly and if you
plan for rain, it inevitably is hot and sunny. The opposite is true
when you plan for warm, clear days. Still, I was anxious to get back
to Nathan and Asher, so asked around for someone to drive me. There
are no cars and even if there was one, it wouldn't make it down the
road during rainy season. The first two drivers, or zeds, refused.
They were too nervous about the weather. In my mind, I was thinking,
"Come on, let's go quickly; we may get there before the rain comes!"
The third zed finally agreed and we left. I had on my rain jacket and
helmet (the zed had on just a t-shirt and baseball cap) and was
wearing my backpack. I had a large plastic bag with dog food for
Asher, sitting on the moto in front of the driver. Not five minutes
into the drive, it started raining. We persevered but quickly the
rain descended harder. I asked the zed if he wanted to stop, but he
said no, we were already wet, so we should just continue. The
difficulty soon proved not to be the rain, but that the ground was
already saturated and the dirt road quickly became, literally, a
river. We kept moving and at one point entered a deep gully (it was
impossible at times to tell how deep the water was) and the moto
stopped. I jumped off and waded to the side. The zed pushed the moto
out of the gully and discovered water had entered the exhaust pipe
(and maybe the engine? I think the motor flooded, but my French
vocabulary does not extend to auto parts so I couldn't have an
intellectual conversation with the zed about the problem.) At this
point sheets of rain were descending and there were only palm trees to
stand under. It goes without saying that I was completely soaked! (I
would have taken a picture, but that would have been stupid…wet
camera?!) I was taking deep breaths, saying prayers, and trying to
problem-solve rationally. The zed kept saying the moto would start
again soon but I knew better. I took off my helmet (my head soaked
now) and searched for my phone to call Nathan. He answered and
cheerfully asked where I was. I answered in a panicked,
hyperventilating voice, "I'm standing in the middles of a field, in
the pouring rain, beside a broken-down moto." (He later told me he
thought I said I was dying…hmm…not exactly…but…) Nathan immediately
said he's send another zed, but I was concerned the zed wouldn't be
able to make it. Nathan said no worries; he would call one and call
me back. In the meantime, I had seen a broken down car a ¼ mile back
and decided to walk towards it so I could get out of the rain. I told
the zed I was leaving, who looked at me like I was crazy. I grabbed
the dog food and started off. Within a moment, I was wading through
water pass my calves. I continued to take deep breaths and say
prayers. I arrived at the car and the man inside quickly let me in.
I apologized that I was wet but that was probably quite obvious and
beside the point. He was out of gas and was waiting on a zed to bring
him more. We introduced ourselves and I couldn't help but laugh; to
me the situation was unbelievable. He looked at me like I was crazy
(the second man of the day), but started laughing as well. Nathan
called back, said our zed-friend, Julian, was on his way and gave me a
pep talk: "This happens all the time to volunteers…Just think how
strong you are…Stay positive…You're almost home." In my mind, I was
thinking "Ok great. I'm stuck here all night. Or how long would it
take to walk 12k? Would I get home before dark? Or maybe I can sleep
in the car. Or maybe I can find a hut nearby and ask in my
non-existent Losso (the local language in the nearby village Konfaga)
to sleep on the floor. Maybe I can give them my bananas and guavas in
exchange?! Ok breathe in…breathe out." The original zed now arrived
at the car and has abandoned the moto. After about 20 minutes, Julian
arrived, from another direction, having attempted to avoid the most
washed out parts of the road. The rain has now slowed, and I paid the
original zed and thanked him for trying. I hopped on the back of
Julian's moto and off we went (albeit slowly). Night was quickly
falling and I was hoping we'd reach the house before dark. No such
luck. We went about 10k successfully, but arrived at a bridge that
had been overtaken by water. Julian and I decided I should hop off
and walk across while he waded the moto across. After a couple of
minutes, success! I hopped back on…only to jump off again a minute
later. The sandy road in front of us had disappeared, large rocks
were protruding, and huge potholes have been left. Not to mention the
fast flow of water all around us. I hop off again and start walking
all while Julian yelled at me "Go slowly! Slowly!" And then, I lost
my flip-flop. It started floating down the road, and I again started
laughing. Could this get any crazier? And did I mention that my
flip-flop is black rubber and it was dark outside? But Julian
actually jumped off the moto and went after it. And found it…and I'm
still laughing. We continued on like this for another ½ mile until
Julian decided it is safe for me to get back on. With his faint
headlight we continued the rest of the way to the house. Nathan was
on the "road" (now you know why it needs to be in quotes!) looking for
us. We gave Julian big hugs, thanked him a thousand times, paid him
extra, and encouraged him to get home safely. I collapsed on the
floor of the house. Nathan pasta sauce cooking and was boiling water
for a hot bucket bath. I can't say I ever completely relaxed that
night, but I was grateful to be home. I am not sure what I would have
done differently but I am thankful for a calm and clear-thinking
husband and our friend Julian who came to help and got me home safely.
Sometimes I think I learn more about myself in experiences like these
than in the "work" I am here to complete. But maybe an overall lesson
for life in Africa is that life is seldom easy, but it's possible to
see the positive (laughing!) and come out stronger on the other side.
Or as the Togolese often say "Today is today."

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