19 June 2009

On a dark and dangerous road in Africa,

I came up over the rise of the hill and my headlights caught on something reflective and grabbed my attention. Sure enough, the river was flooded on this road too and a bus was stopped halfway down the hill. I shifted down and pulled in behind him, not too close to the drainage gully at the side and not so close to the bus that I couldn’t pull out and turn around if necessary. I pulled on the hand brake, gave it an extra yank and turned off the engine. Oh well, there’s no hurry in Africa.

The bus driver ambled up to have a chat. We weren’t going anywhere so might as well develop community on the roadside. I leaned against the front fender and he crossed his arms, glaring at the rising water as if to turn the tide. This was no tide. We were inland in a land locked African country where we alternate droughts and floods: rarely just enough of anything at just the right time.

“I marked it about an hour ago. I’d better move my stick soon or I’ll lose it.” The driver said in chiShona, gesturing to a sapling that was measuring how quickly the waters rose.
“Munoda Coke here?” I asked in the same dialect, reaching for the bottles in the chilly bag behind the seat.

He took them both from me and opened one using the other lid as leverage. I handed him an opener for the second one, saving him having to use his teeth on his bottle. Having just been to town and buying a few groceries, I knew we’d be fine, even if we had to sleep in the truck tonight. Mosquitoes weren’t bad yet as the rain had swept everything away. My passengers had already found comfy spots to lean or squat and relatives with whom to talk. Everyone settled in.

After a few hours, the driver ambled back up to my location. “I think the water is going now. Want to go first?” he asked, smiling.
“You’re at the head of the queue. Endai henyu,” I jibbed back, feigning respect.
“But, if you get stuck, or swept down stream, I can pull you out.”
“But, if the water has swirled out a big hole in the middle of the bridge, I’ll get lost and ruin my truck.” I replied.
“Hmmm. Chokwadi,” he said. “That is true.”
He walked slowly in to the receding water; jabbing at the surface of the cement slab we called a bridge. He found a few holes, but all in all it was stable enough.

Loading those passengers who did not want to wade through, he revved his engines, got up some momentum and purposely plowed through the swift current. The bus slowed a bit midstream, but kept its grip on the bridge and climbed out the other side.
He secured the bus and then came back to shout at me across the river. “I’ll wait a bit and make sure you make it through, but I’d not try just yet.”

My passengers all climbed in as I’d need their combined weight to keep all four tires on the ground. With the weight of eight Africans and an American, a bit of speed and fervent prayers we made it through with only a mild tug on the steering wheel and lots of cheering from both sides of the river.

I’d later pass or be passed by that driver on different trips. He’d always wave and give me the advantage on those rough and dangerous roads of Bikita. Stories of that event were told in around fires and at drinking holes. “Did you hear about that white woman waiting by the flooded river . . . ?”

There is much talk of developing or creating community these days. In Zimbabwe, on dark nights along a river’s edge, it just happened.

1 comment:

BethH said...

Have you written a book yet? You should! Great story on so many levels. Love it.