Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Crazy 35 Hour Day

Warning: Long Post Ahead

After a very busy Christmas season Tom and I looked forward to a few days together. We needed to take care of some business in Lusaka and a volunteer was expected to arrive on January 8, so following the New Year festivities, and after taking care of the bi-weekly shopping,  we headed down to Lusaka.

It's much easier to drive the roads here if you start off at 2 or 3 AM. The roads are clear, it's cooler, and you arrive in Lusaka 12 hours later ahead of the rush hour. It's perfect. And this is exactly what Tom and I did. We had the car loaded the night before, got a few hours of sleep and drove off at 2:30 AM. 

Tom did most of the driving, but I did 2 of the most boring hours so I think it was fairly even. Ahem.
On the way we prepared our to-do list. As is typical for trips like this, a list that started out with about 4 items on it quickly grew to include about 20. All to get done in two days. Yep.

We were thoroughly exhausted when we got to Lusaka so after a quick stop for dinner at a Thai place, where I discovered Tom Yum Kai soup, we got to sleep early since the next couple days would be BUSY!

The next morning we were out the door at 8 AM. The first stop was Immigration where we collected my residence permit. No more renewing work permits every two years. And the People of God say Hallelujah!!

From that point onward the next day and a half moved forward in a methodical way. At each shop, office, or business we found either the people or things we needed. We sat in traffic a few times, but for the most part we just moved from point to point and crossed item after item off our list. It was wonderful and by no means typical for this part of the world. We were amazed! 

On the way to pick up our newest volunteer, Zach, from the airport we marveled at how smoothly the trip had gone so far and how thankful we were for that fact.

This was about to change......

We arrived at the airport just after Zach's plane had landed and so we took our time to grab a couple bottles of water and a snack. Volunteers have to stand in the 'tourist' line so they are usually some of the last people out. However, as time passed and there was still no sign of Zach we got a bit concerned. Finally we spotted him--but where he was meant nothing good. He was at the Lost Luggage counter!

Eventually he filled out the necessary forms so the airline could locate his suitcase and they promised to call when his luggage arrived. This particular airline has 3 flights a day from South Africa to Zambia so there was a good chance his suitcase could even get in later that day. There was nothing more to be done so we called the hotel to extend our stay (we had been planning to begin driving that very next morning--at 2 AM again), and headed home.

The next day we called the airport and were told the suitcase was in their system, but would only arrive the next day at noon since it was still in Germany. 

So, with all our work done we ended up with a free day. What a gift! 

The next morning we woke up early ready to check out from the hotel and get to the airport at noon after which we would begin driving back to Kazembe. Whether the bag had arrived or not we would have to head north and make other arrangements for the suitcase because we'd been away from the orphanage too long already. And this is where the long day began. Had we known what it held in store for us, we may have just crawled back into bed.....

Car fully loaded we drove out to the airport, arriving right at noon. The Lost Luggage office showed the suitcase as being loaded on the flight and due to arrive. Only problem? The flight was delayed by 90 minutes. So we decided to wait. It was only 90 minutes, right?

Two hours later we found out the suitcase was actually still lost. No one seemed to know where it was. Tom found a courier that would get it out of lost and found and all the way up to Mansa whenever it actually arrived. That was good news, but now it was after 4 PM. We were going to hit rush hour traffic, be stuck behind buses also headed out of town, and be driving this congested traffic area at dusk. Not good!

We made a decision to check into an inexpensive hostel for several hours so we could sleep and then start driving at midnight. It sounded like a good plan in theory, but the reality was that we weren't really able to sleep and then we got a call at 9 PM that the luggage had actually arrived. So, back to the airport we went at 11 PM, collected the suitcase and right at midnight we were headed out of town. 

The road was reasonably clear, but we were already tired and staring down the barrel of a 12 hour drive. Poor Tom only managed 2.5 hours before he had to pull over. I wasn't able to help much with the driving because when my wallet was stolen back in November my license was taken along with it. We had decided that I would only drive in areas I wasn't likely to be asked to produce a license. 

After an hour of sleep Tom got back to driving. And immediately encountered pea-soup thick fog. We crept along at about 30 miles an hour. It was very stressful. I sat up straight, peering ahead, and 'helped' keep an eye on the road. Another 2 hours and we had to stop once more. An hour after that Tom drove again. There was relief in sight though because we were about to reach the 'dead zone' as we call it. It's a lonely stretch of highway where there are few villages and no police checkpoints. I'd be able to help with the driving finally.

When I took over the driving it was about 9 AM. We'd pretty much been up for 24 hours with just a couple catnaps to tide us over. I put in my earphones with my audio book and hoped I'd be able to stay awake.

About three hours later we got close to civilization so Tom woke up and took over with the driving. We were an hour away from Mansa at this point and after that it would only be two hours. We would survive this!

In Mansa we picked up some lunch, but decided to eat it on the way because We Were So Close!

The only thing left to do was to stop off at Terra Nova to drop off some tomato seedlings we'd picked up in Lusaka. It didn't make any sense to take them all the way to Kazembe only to take them back again a few days later. 

As we drove north the rain started up. This is so good for our garden, we remarked. However, Tom did wonder if the dirt road that winds through Terra Nova would be too muddy to drive on. We have gravel down for the first hundred yards but the next stretch is still just dirt. 

When we got to Terra Nova, there was so much grass growing on the dirt road we figured we'd have some traction and decided to risk it. 

Big mistake.

At this point the rain was coming down pretty good. We jumped out, pulled the seedlings out of the car, and deposited them inside the 'greenhouse' tunnel. Soaking wet, we got back in the car ready to have this trip over. Just an hour and a half to go.

 Aaaand the car wouldn't move. We were mired in the mud!

I dragged a bamboo mat out of our Gilligan's Hut, but it was too rotted to do much good. We pulled apart a fence made out of bark pieces, but they too did nothing. Our front tires just spun uselessly. 

Tom had been in the driver's seat trying to maneuver while Zach and I dashed around in the rain pulling random objects over to try and help free the tires. Tom finally got out and asked me to do the driving so he could help more. I've never worked to unstick a car from mud, so I didn't really know what I was doing. This became apparent when Tom asked me to put the car in reverse and I revved the engine spraying poor Zach liberally with mud. The look he gave me was priceless. We told him he was being baptized into African life.

Thankfully, the village headman and his fifteen year old son happened along. They knew where some logs were and helped us to jack up the car and pile debris beneath the two front tires. A full hour after getting stuck we were finally free!
We left behind several layers of rubber on one of the logs--it was literally smoking!--but we were FREE!

An hour and a half later our poor, wet, muddy, bedraggled bodies drove through the orphanage gate. Never had our bed looked so wonderful!

It was nearly 5 PM and we had been driving nearly the entire time since 11 PM the day before!

The best thing we can say about days like that is that we survived! 

And what an adventure it was!

P.S. Can you believe I got not a single picture?? Just the sight of poor Zach covered head to toe with mud on only his second African day would have been worth having. Somehow my mind was not on cameras.....

1 comment:

  1. Cynthia WaltersJanuary 13, 2015

    Oh my goodness! That's a rough day-and-a-half! Glad you finally made it okay!


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