BYOB – Bring Your Own Bridge


This past weekend sure was an adventure; I think I could almost write a short story on all the events of Saturday. Although I really only wanted to write a short summary of our adventure, anything less than the full story simply wouldn’t do it justice.

It all started Saturday morning around 10:30 when we left for Dipalata. We loaded up into three cars, two trusty old land cruisers and a rickety Suzuki SUV that already looked like its days were numbered. Despite the condition of our cars, we were determined to make it to Dipalata so that we could teach a few classes to the locals and enjoy a Sunday mass at a church this program has supported.

On the way to Dipalata, we made a side trip to Chinyingi to see the famous suspension bridge that spans nearly 1000 feet across the mighty Zambezi River. The bridge, constructed in the 1970s by a Capuchin priest with no formal training, gives access to the Chinyingi mission and hospital that serves the people living throughout the nearby bush. It is a critical structure for all who live nearby. The bridge towering above the river sways and dips with every step you take. It is certainly not for the faint of heart. I think I speak for many of us in the group when I say that I surely wouldn’t have crossed the bridge on my own. But together with people who I have grown to love and cherish, the fear and impossibility of conquering my fear of heights vanished and was replaced with a sense of security and belonging. Together we made it across the bridge and back again after having a look at the village and mission.

After our journey across the bridge, we loaded back up and headed for Dipalata along a primitive “road” that was supposedly a short cut to our destination. We would later find out that the “road” was actually a seldom-used ox cart path, and, although it was a shortcut, it certainly wasn’t made for motor vehicles. It wasn’t long before we hit our first major obstacle, a large mud pit probably 50 feet across. After a short search for another route that turned up empty, we decided to attempt a crossing. To reduce our vehicle’s weights, we all exited and watched with crossed fingers as Josh piloted the first land cruiser through the pit. It was a success! The mighty land cruiser made it through with ease, as did the second land cruiser, piloted by Kris. We weren’t out of the woods yet though as we still had to get the dilapidated Suzuki across. Despite Father Baraza’s best efforts, the Suzuki didn’t have the muscle to get through the pit. Despite this set back morale was still high, and we decided to leave Father Baraza and Mama Katendi with the Suzuki, a bag of water, and the promise that we would come back with a tow rope and men from Dipalata to drag the Suzuki out of the pit. This turned out to be easier said than done.

Not long after we left Father Baraza and the Suzuki ,we ran into our next problem. The land cruiser being piloted by Josh suddenly died and would not start again. I think at this point we all collectively thought to ourselves “Oh boy, what next?” However, through some translating from Mama Violet, we learned that Dipalata was nearby. With one land cruiser still operational, Josh and Kris loaded it with as many people as it could hold and started down the trail again. The remaining members of our group decided to walk to a nearby church to wait while Grant, Mama Violet and I volunteered to stay behind with the broken down land cruiser. After some time, the locals living near and along the “road” came to see if we needed any help, and one young man, probably around the age of 17 kindly offered us fresh Tangerines from his family’s nearby orchard. Grant and I were blown away by this young man’s generosity, as we were just strangers to him, and communication with him was difficult due to his limited knowledge of English and our nearly nonexistent knowledge of Luvale (Local Dialect). I found myself wondering how many people would do the same back home.

After waiting in the truck for nearly two hours, Josh finally returned, and we decided to try and fire up the other land cruiser, hoping that it had merely been flooded. Our prayers were answered when we turned the key and the truck miraculously fired up! Josh handed the Cruiser off to Kris, who loaded the vehicle with the others who had been waiting at the church and headed toward Dipalata. With everyone else either already in Dipalata or headed there, Josh, Grant and I hopped into the other Land Cruiser to work our way back toward Father Baraza, so we could tow out the ole Suzuki. To our dismay the truck would not start. Fearing a dead battery, Grant and I started back down the road toward the Suzuki to check on Father and Mama Katendi and grab the battery, so we could jump-start the Cruiser. After walking about 500 feet down the road, our jaws dropped as none other than Father Baraza and Mama Katendi came chugging down the road in the Suzuki. They had enlisted the help of several young men living nearby and spent approximately two hours digging out the car. But the Suzuki was battered and beat down from the rough road. We ran back to the stranded Cruiser and tried jump-starting it to no avail. Seeing no other option, with the help of some locals, we got the battery out of the car and with my trusty leatherman cleaned the terminals of the battery as best we could in the hope that maybe that was the problem. It worked! The Land Cruiser fired up, and we started back down the road. Once again the Zambians had proved just how caring and willing to help they were.

Now you might think the story ends here, but unfortunately it doesn’t. We had about another three or four hard miles to cover and given that it was nearly 5, we only had about an hour and a half of light left. The trusty land cruiser had no trouble crossing the remaining creek, but we dared not attempt a crossing in the Suzuki. Already not running smoothly before we left, the “road” had taken a toll on the little car, and it was on the brink of over heating. Rather than risk getting the Suzuki stuck in the muddy creek, we decided to build a build a bridge across the ditch. Luckily there was already a narrow footbridge across the ditch. With the help of about 10 men who had came from surrounding homes, we cut several small trees and limbs, laid them across the gap, pilled some sod on top of it and within 20 minutes we had a bridge wide enough to drive the Suzuki across. With a sigh of relief, we piled into the cars, drove the remaining mile or two and made it to Dipalata around 6 o’clock. After hours of bad luck, muddy vehicles and many prayers, we had all made it to Dipalata safe and sound.

At Dipalata we were greeted by what seemed to be the entire village. We were welcomed with warm food, good music and a large bonfire. As we sat enjoying the warm fire and beautiful music I knew that this was truly a day none of us would ever forget.

Someone once told me that nothing worth having in life comes easy, and I guess that applies to our adventure Saturday. Through all of our struggles to make it to Dipalata, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life. Life can be hard, scary and downright awful at times, but when we walk with others we gain strength and anything becomes possible.


Kisu Mwane,

Joseph Hale




P.S. To Mom and Dad, I cant thank you enough for all you have done for me. I love you both and miss you lots. I’m doing great and loving my time here in Zambezi. Dad, I couldn’t help but compare this adventure to a few times you and I got stuck in some sticky situations, remember that time we got stuck in that storm outside Loreto? We need to plan another adventure soon. Mom, try not to worry about me, I’m staying healthy and haven’t forgotten my malaria meds once. Tell Zoe I said hi. Hannah, I miss you lots and I hope you got a little time off after school finished, tell Aaron I said hello!

P.P.S. I tried to upload some pictures but the internet is too slow and I’m too tired to keep trying

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16 Responses to BYOB – Bring Your Own Bridge

  1. Lori Hale says:

    Wow, Joe! What an amazing experience. We loved reading your blog and are so incredibly proud of you for going on this adventure. We are all in Wallowa Lake with grandma and grandpa, and Hannah and Aaron for Memorial Day weekend. We have said so many times how much we miss you but how thrilled we are for you to do this. You are in our thoughts and prayers everyday. It will be so wonderful so see your pictures and hear your stories. Thanks for the great story and for letting me know you are still taking those malaria meds. Love you so much. Mom and Dad

  2. Venezia says:

    It sounds like you guys had a hell of a day filled with hard work and I’m sure a lot of laughter. I hope no one was touched by the evil plague in Dipalata and that you are all happy and healthy as your journey continues.

    kisu mwane

  3. Tom Lovell says:

    Saw your mother’s post and thought I would check out what you’re up to Joe. Holy Smokes – you’re starting a trip of a life time and a game changer! Good luck on this trip and I look forward to reading more blog posts –

  4. Hannah Hale says:

    It’s so good to hear from you, Joe! I’ve thought about you every single day since you’ve been gone and can’t wait to hear about all of your adventures when you get home. We all placed bets this past weekend to guess how much weight you would lose while you were gone lol. We were out on Wallowa Lake when Mom saw your blog post. Aaron and I were in a kayak, while mom and dad were in a paddle boat. Who knows why mom was on her phone while she was supposed to be paddling along (you know dad was doing all of the work), but when she saw your post she got so distracted and weepy reading it to dad that they bummed into a nearby fishing boat (lol). Needless to say she was very relieved that you were taking all of your malaria meds. We miss you and can’t wait to see you soon. You’ll have a five guys burger waiting!

  5. Jamie Levy says:

    Loved reading your post! What an amazing adventure you’re on! I think I’ll live vicariously through your blog posts to keep them coming! Good luck and safe travels!

  6. Anne Sokoloski says:

    Living vicariously through your amazing adventure. You are correct, that story deserved a long post. Every minute of this trip is going to be worthy of future ‘good’ole college day’ recollecting when you are old! 🙂 Thank you SO much for reassuring your mom about your malaria meds. And by that, you know she knows that you totally have got this right? She hasn’t mentioned the malaria meds even once.

  7. Aaron Breen says:

    I’m happy to finally hear about one of your exciting adventures in Africa. I’m sure this once in a lifetime experience will be one that stays with you forever. Doing on to others is truly one of the most rewarding tasks we can accomplish. I’m excited to hear about the rest of your adventures when you are stateside. Be safe and have fun, man!

  8. Joe M says:

    Josh, that is a great group you have this year. Say hello from me to several sunrises and sunsets while you are down there.

    –Joe M
    Zambezi ’09

  9. Kathy Wilmes says:

    Greetings from Oregon – this is Jessica’s Mom and I just needed to take the opportunity to say “WOW” to that amazing adventure that you all had! I can’t even imagine trying to cross that suspension bridge, my palms get sweaty just thinking about it! Please tell Jessica that I love her and miss her very much. I am so incredibly proud of her and so happy that she had this opportunity. Looking forward to hearing about more adventures as I anxiously read your daily blog posts. Praying for a safe and healthy adventure for all of you!

    Kathy Wilmes

  10. Michele Ahearn says:

    Greetings from Washington! – this is Kelen’s Mom. I am so thankful and blessed to be walking with you all on your journey through Zambezi. I am extremely touched by each of your writings, sharing your experience and heart. Super impressed and excited for each of you. Looking forward to tomorrow morning when I have my quiet time reading your adventures.

    Keep running!

  11. Kevin Hale says:

    Joe, what a thrill to get your post. You brightened our entire weekend. Glad to hear that you are adapting to the conditions, and embracing all of the opportunities over there. Continue to challenge yourself and support your friends old and new. We are all proud of you and excited to see more posts and stories from everyone over there.
    Let’er Buck Buddy.

  12. Ken & Connie leek says:

    Hi Joe, how exciting to get your blog! Grandpa and I loved hearing about your wild experience . Even when you were just a little guy you were amazing at figuring things out. We are so proud of you and all of your ZAG family. Know that you are in our prayers every single day! Love you so much and what fun it will be to hear more stories when you get home! ❤️ Grandma and Grandpa

  13. Ken and Connie Leek says:

    Hi Joe, grandpa and I were so excited to get your blog. Wow , what an experience you had! When you were just a little guy we were always amazed at how you could figure things out we are so proud of you and all your ZAG family. Know that you are in our prayers every single day . Love you so much and can’t wait to hear more stories. Take care, grandma and grandpa.

  14. Cj Huschka says:

    Yoe! Sounds like you’re having a helluva time so far. You’ll need to debrief me and your second family when you return home. Be safe out there and embrace the experience like I know you will.

    XOXO, Collin John

  15. Shannon Collins says:

    Joe, It looks like you are having quite an adventure. It will be life changing for sure. I am so glad you are a ZAG and so happy you are able to participate in such an amazing program. Take care, learn all you can and have fun. Hugs, Shannon (Your very proud second grade teacher. )

  16. April McGinley says:

    Hi, I’m Jimmy’s MOM. Of course love and hugs to him, he’s always a ray of sunshine in our lives. Josh, thank you for such a detailed description of your trek. I love it when I can just picture all 20 some of you accomplishing a monumental task. The camaraderie, the remarks, the sharing of all knowledge of cars, the pitching in of everyone, love it!

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