We, however, had a journey full of so many break-downs and problems you either have to cry, laugh, or wonder what God is up to. Be warned, this will be long. But if you want to know what it's like to be a parent trying to see your kid play in a sports match in Africa, read on.
5 am Monday: Bethany, Acacia, Jack, Scott and I emerge in the darkness, putting small bags into the back of the truck, headlights illuminating the rocky bumpy road out of Bundi. The sun rises over the eastern lip of the Rift Valley just as we crest the top of the mountain ridge, spectacular. In Fort Portal we fuel up and meet Kataramu Taddeo, Luke's best friend from his CSB days, an orphan who was sent to Christ School on sponsorship from the Good Samaritan program. Part of our response of gratefulness for the myriad of wise adults who have helped Luke and the opportunities that have opened before him has been to try and pass on some of the same to his friends. Last week we had taken Kataramu to interview at the Clinical Officer Training college in Fort Portal, and were advised that he might possibly get into the Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery program at Gulu University if they met him there. So we brought him along, six of us in the truck, speeding out on the highway east towards our turn-off in Kyenjojo.
10 am: Only we didn't make it to Kyenjojo, because about a half hour out of Fort I smelled something burning. Could that be us? The temperature guage was mid-range but we were alarmed, and as Scott slowed to pull off the road, the engine died, and clouds of smoke started to seep out from under the hood. Hissing sounds. Bad smells. Death? We all piled out, let things cool down a bit, opened this and checked that and called our trusted mechanic friend, Atwoki, who was already supposed to have done his last rescue for us (SSL trip). Thankfully we weren't so far, and he agreed to come take a look. As we waited for an hour or so, I noted one of the kids curiously watching us was about 8 years old but still with a cleft lip. With nothing else to do and wondering if this was God's way of redeeming the stop, I went with Kataramu to trace the boys' mom. Neighbors told us she was resistant to surgery. I happened to have a brochure in my bag from the new CoRSU hospital on Entebbe road, which offers cleft lip/palate repair free. With Kataramu we found her home, sat and talked, showed her convincing pictures of before and after. Her resistance changed . . it's not every day a doctor comes unannounced to your house and takes interest in your kid. I wrote out a referral and gave a small donation towards transport, and encouraged her to give it a try. Maybe the toughness her neighbors perceived was a self-protective defense from a heart that had been disappointed and did not dare to hope? By the time we got back to the car Atwoki had found a rusted-out fluid-leaking area, shut off that circuit (to the heater, not something we ever need!), added water and coolant, and we seemed to have the issue under control. He did not think any permanent damage had occurred. We continued on to Kyenjojo together, rechecked, bought a jerry can to fill with more water just in case, added fresh coolant, and soon were on our way again. Two hours lost, but Gulu was still in our sights.
3 pm Monday: We pull into a fuel station in Hoima, having made it several hours over dirt roads without any problem (we'd checked along the way, temps fine, coolant circulating, all was well). We decide we can't really get lunch, just bathroom and soda and diesel and plan to press on to Masindi, and from there to Gulu, hoping that we can be there between 7 and 8 pm if we push. But as soon as Scott turns the engine off, he hears a hissing sound again, the temperature guage suddenly shoots up to danger zone, and we're back to square one. Hot sun. Interested pump attendants. More exploration. Atwoki on the phone. Curious taunting children and a seemingly mentally ill muslim man who abuses us loudly the whole time. We find a leaking hose, so maybe this was the real problem? Or part of it? They can't replace it, but they can jerry-rig a repair cutting a pipe and using ties. Ok, we take a deep breath. Another two hours go by, and I troop everyone but Scott into town on foot to look for lunch, Jack finds us the "Aroma Cafe" which is pretty grubby but fast, and we eat trying not to think to much about where the food was cooked. Back to the fuel station, the repair is complete. Scott starts the engine. Now something is frothing forth out of a new place, in the water pump! Every place we plug seems to reveal a new leak. Back on the phone with Atwoki. This is a bigger problem. We are not going anywhere else that day. We consider hiring a taxi and abandoning our truck, but Atwoki says he will come with is truck from Fort and have a part put on a taxi from Kampala, and we must wait for him. Then he will fix our truck while we take his to Gulu and back.
5 pm: We find a Catholic guest house and check in for the night, order dinner, and try to calculate that if we get up at 5 am again, we might still make it to Gulu in time to see the girls play. Atwoki, bless his heart, arrives at midnight. Scott is so exhausted he can barely talk. They exchange keys, make plans, and go to bed.
5 am Tuesday: Up in the dark, take two. Pile the bags in the back of Atwoki's truck. Only as I'm putting mine in, I look at the passenger side tire, which is completely flat. The hope of making the game in time wavers. We can't get the spare off the complicated hanging mechanism under the back .. wake Atwoki and side-kick up, and they graciously help us change the tire. He looks amazed, because he's not had a puncture since he got this truck . . . One can not travel in Africa very far without a spare, so we look around town for an open repair shop. No go. We decide to press on towards Masindi. On what turns out to be the most abysmal road we've been on since ours was graded a while back. It is slow going. Praying all the way that the four functional tires hold out until we can get the spare fixed. We make it to Masindi, another wait . . the tube has so many patches and the materials for another patch will have to be obtained elsewhere, so Scott just decides to buy a new tube. On the road again.
11 am Tuesday: WE PULL INTO GULU, INTACT, MINUTES BEFORE THE GIRLS' GAME IS TO START! THE ENTIRE TEAM COMES RUNNING ACROSS THE FIELD TO HUG US WITH JOY, THEY COULD NOT HAVE BEEN HAPPIER IF WE WERE THEIR REAL PARENTS, IT WAS BEAUTIFUL. WE DECIDE THAT ALL THE HASSLE WAS WORTH IT FOR THAT MOMENT.
(more on tournament in next post)
2 pm: We have two hours between the girls' two games of the day, and this is our window (since we missed the morning on the road) to track down someone to interview Kataramu. We are directed to the medical school's old campus, a somewhat past-its-prime set of buildings next to Gulu hospital. No one around, but an angel appears, a young lady who says she will guide us to the new medical school administration building, which is a few km away. We get back in the truck (Atwoki's), only the key won't turn. Scott tries. And tries. Jiggles the steering wheel and the key. Minutes tick by. He calls Atwoki, who says it's an old worn key, sometimes this happens, just keep trying. No go. Scott is exhausted, 2 days at 5 am, about 14 hours of driving, pressure to get back in time for the game, poor Kataramu waiting. Why this? Our angel goes to find a driver friend, who reaches in the window and the key turns. We're stunned. OK, maybe we just needed to depend on others . . . off to the next place. Our angel stops the key professor who is just leaving in his car (reason for our delay, to meet him?). He is brusque but polite, explains that our info from Fort Portal is wrong, there is no value in seeing anyone at the medical school, all the decisions are made in Kampala by the Joint Admissions Board. But if we want to we can go to the main University campus office of the Registrar to enquire about the few private sponsorship slots that open next week after the government-sponsored slots are filled.
3 pm: Our angel takes us another few km away to the main Gulu University Campus, and inserts herself into a crowd in one office, and into a smaller queue in the next, and somehow manages to impress people that we've driven all the way from Bundibugyo . . and a few minutes later we're seated in stuffed chairs in the office of the official Registrar of the University, the main man in Admissions. He is very kind, professional, exuding knowledge and competence, intimidating but professional. He looks at all Kataramu's papers and grades, does calculations, and gives us the straight scoop. He won't be admitted. The competition is too fierce, and Kataramu's grades are not high enough. We believe in this kid, but this is a country where one exam spells your whole future, no matter how dedicated, hard working, bright you are. Sigh. The Registrar advises him and us on alternative health-related courses and careers. We leave, sobered, but glad for clarity. Kataramu later processes and says that God has a plan for him, that he'll be patient, and that's he's grateful for the opportunity to have tried.
4 pm: Back to Gulu high, just as the game starts again . . .watch, cheer, cringe, wish for better, comfort girls, hang out, see the dorms. We part at dusk, swing by Lacor Hospital which is inspiring, both for the husband/wife Italian missionary doctor team who spent their lives there (she died of AIDS acquired in the Operating Theatre, he continued to serve until his death) and as the place where Dr. Matthew Lukiywa also died of Ebola, like Dr. Jonah. We look for signs to a hotel and find the Golden Peace Hotel, impressive 3-story newly-built in the middle of village round huts. Gulu is like that, spread out. Dinner and the promise of a good nights' sleep. We intend to see a third game the next morning before starting back, but just before we retire we find out that the next days' schedule has changed and the game will not be until afternoon, so we'll miss it. This is Uganda. Plans change. We decide to sleep until 7ish to catch up a bit on the intensity of two days in the car, then begin our journey back . . .
6:12 am Weds But just before daylight, we are awakened by an earthquake. The 3-story building is shaking, our bed is shaking. Scott and I sit up. Do we run? How many corners were cut in this construction? By the time we decide, the tremor ends. But it might just be the first, and a larger one could follow. We decide to move out, it's just not worth the risk. How crazy is an earth quake on top of all the other things? The people in the hotel tell us it is very unusual in Gulu. We're tempted to tell them that it's our fault . . but we enjoy a big breakfast in a safer place, say goodbye to the girls and start our journey back.
2 pm Weds: We have passed a dead body of a man who was evidently carrying reeds on his bicycle and was hit by a vehicle just outside Gulu. Police are already there, and though the body still likes bloodied and at an unlivable angle on the road, it has been too long to think of help. Besides that, and signs warning of land mines, the road is clear and smooth. Over the Nile, spectacular crashing rapids. We decide to bag the slightly shorter distance of the dirt road through Hoima and go on the good pavement through Kampala. By 2 we're stopping for fuel just outside the city. On target to make it back to Fort Portal by dark, where Atwoki has now repaired our truck fully. But after putting in fuel, Atwoki's truck will not start. Lights come on the dash, then fade. Scott and the pump attendant check all the connections, they seem tights on the battery. More calls. No, this has not been a problem before. We decide that if we can roll start the truck, we'll just keep on to Fort without stopping again, so all of us get out and push the truck. On the second try it sputters to life.
7 pm Weds: Back in Fort Portal, we roll into Atwoki's Stitch and Sew Garage (yes, that's the name). He was the first Ugandan we met, when he picked us up at the airport, and once again he has gone to incredible humbling lengths to help us. He tells us it is because we are family. We try not to cry after such kindness, and such stress.
We sleep in Fort and make it back to Bundi on Thursday. On the way, my Bible reading falls on Numbers 22-24, the story of Balaam and his donkey. Hmmm. Coincidence? I think not. There was Balaam wanting to beat his donkey, just like we wanted to kick our truck. Transportation woes. But God was doing two things. First, He was protecting Balaam from destruction ahead. Did our breakdowns save our lives? We can't know, but it does put a different perspective on complaining about delays. Second, He was purifying Balaam's heart. After Balaam sees the spiritual reality of his danger, he rejects all the riches of Balak the King and chooses to stick with God. He describes himself as a man "with eyes wide open", who sees God is in control. That was not easy for us, as we so longed to see our Julia, and the team, and the games, and so wondered why God made it so hard. Hoping we don't have to have too many more trips like this one, but if we need to suffer more radiator issues for the purposes of protection or purification, then bring them on. At the time we were nearly in despair. Looking back, we can see that each issue occurred in places and times when we could receive help, that God always opened another door for us. If you've read this far, pray for us to be spiritually aware as a donkey (!) and not stubbornly complaining as a missionary (!!).