Lubwisi New Testament Celebration Journey: Day 1-2
Monday after Swahili (finished Level One!) we packed the Landrover with our suitcases, camping gear, cooler, and miscellaneous survival junk and hit the road. First stop, using our new Swahili skills, we bought roasted corn for lunch which consists of guys at the roadside grabbing the ears of corn off their charcoal grills as you slow down and thrusting them through the window. Kenyan fast food. The road from Kijabe to Eldama Ravine descends to the floor of the Rift Valley, passing lakes Naivasha and Elementitia, then heading north up the escarpment to the cool misty forested hills. There are flocks of zebra incongruously grazing by the busy roadside, and it would be a spectacular drive if it weren’t for the hundreds of slow trucks rumbling over the potholes. The two-lane road is one of the most dangerous in the world as lines of cars and matatus (public transport vans) pile up behind a truck, vying for an opportunity to pass. At times we had matatus passing on both sides, the shoulder and the oncoming lane, recklessly forcing traffic coming the other way to pull off the road. It’s crazy.
So when we pulled into Sunrise Acres at dusk, it was a relief. This little dairy farm sits on the site of a missionary family dynasty in Kenya, the Barnettes, who have served for generations. There are a handful of very simple cabins, furnished with items and taste of your grandparents’ generation, somehow wholesome and familiar and comforting in spite of where they land on the scale of shabby to sleek. We’ve been stopping here on trips back and forth from Kenya to Uganda for almost 15 years, finding the peace and quiet a place of prayerful safety. And we miss our cows, so it’s always a treat to see these. Not to mention that you can buy amazing homemade ice cream and jams. A couple of times we’ve invited the older missionaries who run the place to eat with us, and tell stories of their days as students at RVA, as kids growing up, as newlywed teachers, in pre-independence Kenya. I appreciate the untold debt we owe to the pioneers who preceded us on this journey.
Tuesday we were up by 6 for breakfast and packing up, reluctantly leaving the little green cottage as the day lightened. The road from Eldama Ravine to Kampala is also no joke. Thankfully we have Scott who is a skilled and experienced driver making the thousands of decisions on when to swerve, when to attempt a pass, which path to take when the pavement is scant. We had two pleasant chats with Kenyan police, who wave cars off the road and ask a lot of questions, partly to show their power (information=power) and partly because they are curious. We made it to the border before noon, and are happy to note that the process has improved since we first drove this way well over two decades ago. New buildings, a more professional atmosphere, less haggling and hassle. It is expected that one hire a border agent when bringing a car through, and we called the same guy we always use, Salim, who ushered us through the process. Out of Kenya, over the unremarkable creek that represents the border, into Uganda. Flourishes of stamps in passports. The money-changers remembered Scott and asked about our old red truck (!) and chatted about life and insisted we move back to Uganda while we waited. Ugandans are very welcoming.
The traffic increased the closer we got to Kampala as urban sprawl, women walking with baskets on their heads, pesky darting boda-cycles, lumbering lorries, aggressive matatus, struggling tiny pick-up trucks all competed for road space. Jack spotted a motorcycle with FOUR PIGS (live, trussed upside down on a clever rack). I spotted a family of five on a cycle, the two kids sleeping between the three adults. Soldiers glared as we crossed the Nile at Jinja, protecting the dam that supplies electricity (heard later that another family got pulled over because their son was playing on a hand-held gaming device, and taking photos of the bridge is strictly forbidden). So much about Uganda feels like home—the bunches of matoke and bright red piles of tomatoes or mountains of pinapples for sale by the roadside, the broad banana leaves and towering mango trees, the stretches of papyrus swamp, the exposed mud-brick buildings, the bright yellow painted advertising slogans on shop-fronts. And the crawling traffic, the burgeoning population and economic growth straining an outdated infrastructure to the limits.
We pushed on, willing to forgo more than a quick snack of warm lentil-filled samosas so we could reach our destination in Kampala in order to join Massos and Pat for dinner. In fact we were pretty proud of ourselves as we located our Air BnB destination (YES, Kampala now has listings on Air BnB), a large apartment complex north of the bypass. I had been texting the owner every hour or two with updates on our progress, but it still took him quite a while to fight traffic from his location to meet us with the key. And that’s where the day took a plunge. Hungry kids, 11 hours in the car, time ticking, waiting waiting. And in the confusion of the arrival of the man-with-the-key (a classic Uganda phrase for “we can’t help you” is “the man with the key is not here”) and Scott getting a phone call from Kenya, the keys got locked in the car. So we spent the next 30-40 minutes with a flimsy hanger trying to unlock a sliding back window (no go), or a door (no go), and finally managed to hook the keys lying on the seat and squeeze them out between the door and seal. Whew. Another innovation, like Air BnB, is Google Maps in Kampala, which took us on roads-never-traveled to wend our way into the city for dinner. It was now well past dusk, sinking into fully dark, as the evening pedestrians crowded the roadsides, hawkers sold shoes and chapatis, dukas opened their doors and turned on lights. At one point we were on a steep dirt track barely as wide as our car with ditches dropping off on each side.
But all was forgotten when we walked into our favorite restaurant in the world, Khana Khazana, and the waiter who knows us from many Kampala visits over the years had already helped Karen order exactly the quintessential Myhre Indian-food dinner: everything from papadam masalal to palak paneer to methi murgh and mango lassi. Peace, candlelight, a huge round table for 13, greetings, stories, dipping naan into the spicy dishes. One of our young men whom we have sponsored through school and acted as distant surrogate parental figures for, John, met us there too for the meal and a proud review of his latest exam results. Three more exams in August and December and he will be a certified accountant.
Back through the congested night streets to the apartment we had rented, a tasteful and spacious three-bedroom modern flat for $60, with superb water pressure for hot showers and some food stocked for breakfasts. Which brings us to today, Wednesday, emerging from the city to head west on the finally open road. Unlike the rest of the trip, the road from Kamapla to Bundibugyo was surfaced in the last decade, with generally wide shoulders, clear lines, and sparse vehicles. Long stretches of swamp and garden and rolling hills space out the inevitable speed-humps in the small towns we pass through. This stretch feels less dramatically changed than Kampala has, or Bundibugyo will, both because it is rural and because it is less familiar than our actual home. We pause at Mubende for our usual fast food, the vendors swarming around the car until they figure out Scott has the money and is bearing the brunt for purchasing hot charcoal-grilled chicken breasts on sticks, greasy chapatis, sweet soft gonja, a rolex (omlette rolled in chapati).
And so we continue westward. About half the team is sick, and we know the spiritual significance of the Lubwisi Bible means this won’t be a simple week. Thanks for prayers.