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.
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