We were heading into Nairobi for Caleb's first rugby match. Caleb had gone on ahead on the team bus, and Scott, Julia, Jack, Joop (friend of Caleb's) and I were in our vehicle driving to the International School of Kenya, on the outskirts of the city. We had come back from our overnight about noon, quickly done some prep for the dinner for our caring community that was to happen tonight (family time for boarding students, we have a group of 9 who spend an evening with us now about once a month or so), and then jumped in the car and headed out again. Driving in Kenya is not for the faint of heart, and in spite of rugby's violence I had said this week that the most dangerous part of the game was getting to it on the road. This was Scott's 5th trip into Nairobi this week, which is exhausting. We had almost reached ISK when Scott slowed down and turned on his signal light to turn right (remember we drive on the left, the driver's side is the right, and turning right means crossing the lane of oncoming traffic). The cars behind us also slowed, no one was coming, and he was about to turn into the intersection, when I heard an ominous, impending whoosh and saw something out of the corner of my eye, swooping forward in the same direction as us, but at high speed. I yelled, Scott jerked the wheel back, just as we impacted a racing lorry full of sukumu wiki (the cheap popular Kenyan spinach-like green). The driver, who it later became clear was slightly under the influence and not overly-bright, must have seen the cars slowing and decided to pass all of us. He of course didn't notice our signal light, or think to himself that it would be illegal or at least unwise to pass in an intersection. There was a loud bang and a jolt, but we were all fine. The truck, having passed us now, pulled off the road and so did we, and we both got out to inspect the damage.
The massive "bull bar" metal grill on the front of our vehicle was bent in half and sticking out at a 90 degree angle, ready to snap and fall off. And we had a dent and some scraped paint on the front right corner. The truck had matching streaks of white paint from their front left corner back towards the passenger door. The truck driver immediately began blaming us. We told him he was at fault, but we didn't want any money from him . . however if he intended to blame us we would call the police to settle it. Calling the police in Kenya is never simple. For one thing we had no idea how to reach them. For another they could have decided anything, so it was no guarantee that they would help us. But we didn't want to risk this driver or the truck owner later trying to sue us, their golden chance to get rich. It took about an hour and a half. . . meanwhile we were missing Caleb's game. We actually had a lady in a shop call us a taxi, and put Julia, Jack, and Joop in it (Joop is adult-ish) to go on to the game, sensing that the mess would take long to untangle. It was pretty wrenching to get messages from Joop at the game and find out that Caleb scored the first "try" (touchdown for those in America) of the season, and of his career (this being his first real game) and then kicked two conversions (field goals). And we were missing it, stuck on the side of the road, with a damaged car, hot sun, the inevitable drunk and mentally ill bystander who hassled us continuously, a stubbornly unreasonable driver, and his very kind pastor passenger who just kept trying to mediate some peace between us, dreading the involvement of the police. I texted about five friends to pray.
Well, to make a long story slightly shorter, the owner of the truck finally arrived bringing the police, and they were all respectful, thoughtful, calm people. They took statements, inspected the damage, looked at the marks and paint on the road, and found the lorry-driver at fault. No roadside breath tests, but I'm sure they could smell the alcohol involved too. The police wrote up all the details on plain white paper and told us we would have to come to the police station if we wanted an official report, they kept asking us if we were planning to file one with our Kenyan insurance, and Scott said no, our coverage was for third-party damage when we were at fault, but for this dent and front end work we would cover it ourselves. They dismissed us at last, possibly in order to then press the truck-owner for money in lieu of issuing fines and citations. Who knows. I felt bad for the truck-owner, since we weren't trying to get him in trouble with the police . . but I am consoled that perhaps this driver would have killed someone soon, careless and slightly drunk, so it was best to involve officials to get him off the road.
We arrived for the last minute or so of the rugby game. RVA was winning so dramatically by half, and the other team had an inadequate number of players, so the coach asked for volunteers to switch sides, and we found Caleb in an ISK uniform. As he climbed into the car, with raw skinned knees, limping, happy, having played very well in his debut, he gave the quote of the day: " the thing I love about rugby, you look down at your arms after a game, and you have no idea if that's your blood or somebody else's . . . " Yikes.
At first I confess I was bitterly disappointed to be spending the afternoon on the roadside, missing the game. Scott noted the pattern in our lives: whenever we would go to Semliki Safari Lodge for our once-a-year birthday/anniversary get-away, we would have drastic car trouble on the way home that erased all our rest and turned the journey into a survival challenge. Here we were again, a few hours from peace and cottages and fireplaces and flowers and delicious food and friendly conversation, thrown again into the hassle and danger and uncertainty. We were frustrated with the aggressive driver of the truck, unsure of how to proceed, at the mercy of the police. Vulnerable and shaken. But by the time we drove away, though, we were just thankful. Thankful to be alive. A few more degrees into the intersection and the full-speed impact of the heavy lorry would have hit Scott and Jack' side head on. They could have died. We could have spun around and lost control, or involved other vehicles. We could have had a car that we were unable to drive away. We could have been unjustly blamed, taken to jail, fined, who knows what else. Yes, we missed the glory of the rugby game. But we were alive, intact, innocent, and free to go home, no small thing.
The words from Psalm 91, that Patrick gave us during ebola, echo in my heart tonight, "He will give His angels charge concerning you . . " Once again we were so close to disaster, but walked away unharmed. We don't deserve such rescue, but we are thankful that the angels in charge of us pushed us from devastation to inconvenience today. Sobering.