Thursday, February 05, 2009

This is my seat partner, Wakalut, for part of the trip to Kakuma, Kenya.

We arose for breakfast early on Tuesday, packed our belongings and headed to find breakfast. This day we would eat in the dining hall of our hotel. We would have a welcome breakfast of eggs/omelettes, chipati bread, juice and coffee. It was quite delicious.

After we ate, we headed out to the street to find transportation heading in the direction of Kitale, Kenya, where we hoped to catch a bus to Kakuma.

Right outside of our door, we connected with a gentleman who took us just down the road to a van that was preparing to leave.

We boarded, dickered over cost, then headed out to Kitale.

Our trip there would be around a two hour drive.

We were each filled wiht anticipation for the day. We were anxious to arrive at the refugee camps to see what the Lord had in store!

Kitale was a bustling city. Perhaps it was market day. Whatever the reason, the streets were overflowing with people. As we had grown used to seeing, we were the only fair skinned ones among them. This tended to bring us additional attention.

We quickly found a man of peace who escorted us to where the buses were boarding to head north. The crowds were body to body and pressing. Somewhere in this short walk, my sandals were stolen from my bag.

We arrived at the bus heading our direction, as purchased seats. We boarded and sat where we were told.

Later others would come and tell us we were in the wrong seats. We explained we had been seated here. The conductor came and showed us new the very back of the bus!

None of us ever got into the right seats, as the conductor was making random decisions about where we would be. We were clustered in the very back where the gathering heat and stench resided.

Wakalut sat to my left and by the window. I wanted it open. He wanted it closed. He won.

He tried hard to communicate with me. He spoke a handful of English words, but Swahili was his language. I knew no Swahili. We struggled to communicate, but had several "aha!" moments where we connected. He was sweet and kind.

The bus left after several delays, and we were almost immediately on dirt roads.

These were not your ordinary dirt roads. These were lanes sometimes two cars wide, sometimes one. We were in an oversized bus, built for these conditions. Built for and maintained for, are two different things!

The driver swerved from side to side to find the best road. As he did, I was tossed back and forth into Wakalut, one moment and then into Lopeyok the next. The reality was, we were crammed body to body, so tossed is a bit of a misnomer. More like thrust.

There were six of us pushed into the back row of seats which may have seated five comfortably. I wanted the window open for some air. The air I got was stale and lingering.

The ride began to increase in bumpy intensity. Occassionally, I would try to look outside to see if he was intentionally hitting all of the bumps. From where I sat, that was a futile effort. I watched as the people in front and around me bounced up and down with increasing intensity.

I began to think of rides at Kings Island or some other theme park, where the intent was to unnerve and separate you from your lunch. This was the prototype for that ride.

I was dislodged from my seat repeatedly. I tried to remain calm and focus on the bush scenery. It was beautiful! I could see mountains in drawing nearer. I love the mountains...that was a calming thought.

The mountains are my "happy place"...well, at least they used to be.

I began to pray and sing hymns. My own hymns, with words about salvation from the foolishness of men. I am not kidding.

These roads were terrible. I have a mountain bike and love riding off road down steep hills with washboard texture. The kind that make you rattle like a machine gun when you hold your voice at a steady, uuuuhhhhhhhhhh.

This was no machine gun ride, I was experiencing a rapid fire cannon.

I was forced up near the ceiling repeatedly. There was more room up there, but no way to stay put.

The mountains drew nearer, and as we began to ascend, our speed decreased. Whew, at least I could catch my breath...I thought.

It was not an intelligent thought. It was a desperation thought.

As we climbed, our driver saw another bus ahead.

Our driver was competetive. He went into "I must win at all costs," mode.

He picked off the bus ahead by traveling at a much higher rate of speed than was safe.

Safety was far from his mind. He was hurdling us up and down mountain passes where no guardrails reside. He forced the other bus off of the road at every opportunity.

Somewhere along here, my seat back broke. First from one weld on my right. It exposed a jagged metal hook that began to taunt with my flesh.

I repositioned the seat back repeatedly trying to protect myself. It was no use, we were pitching back and forth on this mountain road and pushing beyond 45 degree angles, which had us staring down the mountainside to certain death if we began to roll.

I thought about my family. I prayed. I sang Hymns. I was fired from a cannon one final time which broke the other weld on my seat. My rise eclipsed near the ceiling one final time before my body came crashing down on the newly broken weld.

It shredded my pants and flesh. I was bleeding and could feel the gouge of newly separated skin on my upper left backside.

I must have let out some crescendo of expressiveness, because suddenly everyone from midway back on the bus was staring at me.

I made a decision. I was done trying to sit. I rose to my feet, moved a ways up the aisle and held onto ceiling bars for dear life.

I pressed my eyes shut in prayer and song. I did not believe I would see home again. This driver was out of control, and so was this experience. There was nothing anyone could do. This was Africa. No standards for safety were expected, as evidenced by the overcrowding of every vehicle I road in.

Perhaps I was overreacting. I looked at Michael and Larry. The looks on their faces echoed my own. We excpected to soon be a statistic.

The urge of "fight or flight" would be useless in this scenario, as it seemed both ended at the same doorstep.

I implored my God to give me peace. I urged Him that He was in control and begged that He keep us safe. Watching that other bus nearly get run over the edge by our driver was too much to bear. He had no respect for life.

As I stood I began to watch a family in front of me. The distraction was momentary and only added to my disbelief.

Their seat too, was being separated from its welds. Slowly it pitched toward the center ailse dumping the women and children to floor level, with nowhere to go. The seat crushed the plastic paint buckets they had brought on, to paint their home. We all wore that white paint.

Many hours later, we reached a stopping point, where the driver went to relieve himself. I saw a sign with a pointing arrow that read, "Ministry of Highways and Roads."

I wanted to go tell them their ministry was a miserable failure!

While stopped, the father of the family cast to the floor, went to the police to complain. He let them know of our numerous requests that the driver slow down and take more care. His relentless pursuit of self indulging speed had cost his family.

The police hauled him to the station. We sat and wondered if we were now stranded.

I spent a great deal of time in prayer. I thanked the Lord for somehow keeping us on the mountain when the physics of our ride would suggest that as an impossibility. The times we rode at 45 degree angles and beyond were too numerous to count.

Only God's hand kept the tires on the road.

My God has all authority! He is in control, and kept us safe. What the enemy intends for harm, the Lord will use to strengthen His people.

I was hoping I was strong enough, now...

Oh no, here comes the bus driver. He looks angry!

What would happen next? At this point, I wanted to be a reader of this episode, not a rider. I vowed to never pay to experience another thrill ride at any theme park. I had experienced the ultimate, and by God's grace survived. I was thinking about printing t-shirts about surviving the road to Kakuma...only we weren't there, yet!

What would this guy do next?

My God is a God of compassion!



At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your description of the bus ride kept me on the edge of my seat. Praise God, you made it home in one piece. We were all praying for you while you were away.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok I have been on buses before that drove a little too fast but this guy that drove the bus you all were on I am convinced was on pcp which is a mixture of meth and cocaine he in a nut shell was insane i would have liked to have punched his lights out ! but anyways I am glad you all made it safe and that you lived to tell the story of a crazed bus driver. God bless you for risking you life to see our dear sweet somalis

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Thank the Lord you are home.
UNcle RAy and I had a similar experience in another country. Certainly not as long or as bad as yours. Never the less your writing took me back to it and how scared I was. Our driver wanted to be the lead bus so he wouldn't have the dust of other buses on the dirt road. It also was a drop off on each side.
We serve a mighty God who was in control. We will await the reat of the ride!!!
Aunt Maralyn

At 1:40 AM, Blogger KK said...

I think we should have Carol print you up a t-shirt that talks about surviving the road to Kakuma. I'd totally order one that says "my friend survived...". We'd look really cool and it be an open door to share. :)


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