Friday, March 13, 2009


The least scary part of the road.

I don’t think there is any way for me to get to Cuamba without traumatizing myself. After my last trip there (3rd class 16-hour train ride more crowded than the most crowded New York subway with no bathroom because it’s 5 peoples’ seat) I don’t know if I can ever get on any train again for at least like five years. Since it’s only been one year since that experience, the train is out for me. Other options would be tiny airplane (which would for sure traumatize me) or bicycle taxi from Malawi (I’ve done this one too and it didn’t traumatize me directly but I was kind of traumatized on behalf of the guy who had to carry me and all my luggage on the back of his bicycle for several miles up and down steep dirt hills through the no-man’s-land that makes up the border). So my final remaining option would be driving.

Riding in a chapa could traumatize almost anyone but I thought driving your own car should be pretty safe. Well - this might have been true if it were not still the rainy season, but it is and we found out all about that. We also found out about these things I’m going to call “bridges” and that there are like a thousand of them between Nampula and Cuamba. I better apologize right now for misleading you by calling the thing that I’m talking about a “bridge” – it’s just that I don’t know any other word for something that’s not a bridge right where a bridge should be.

Beautiful Zambezia Province. We drove through Zambezia on the way from Nampula to Niassa where Cuamba is.

Victor’s sister Carmina, Victor, and I left Nampula at 10am and drove two whole hours before the pavement ended. The next eight hours were either hard dirt roads, soft dirt roads, mud, or just plain water. The scenery is spectacular and can not be captured in pictures. It is good that we passed less than ten cars in the entire eight hours because there is only about one foot of road to spare on either side of your car and the elephant grass is between 6 – 10 feet high almost the entire way. I thought this was really neat until we started noticing that about every 1 – 2 minutes we were crossing a “bridge” (or a thing that is not a bridge where a bridge should be). Because the road is so narrow and the elephant grass is so high you can not tell that you were ever on a “bridge” until you’re already off it. You are just driving along and then suddenly notice that if your car had been only two feet to the left or two feet to the right you would have fallen off a “bridge” and plunged ten feet into a little river crossing beneath you!!! There are no signs, warnings or indications of this! And the scariest thing is that these “bridges” are not built to arch up – they are either completely flat and covered with the same mud or dirt as the normal road or they are actually lower than the normal road and have a huge puddle. When you see a puddle you know you will be driving right into a huge pothole so your instinct would be to drive a little off the road to one side or the other – but if you did you would drive right off a “bridge” into a river below!!!

Our car ON a “bridge” – see? You can’t even tell it’s on a bridge!!! But if you look to the right or the left you will see this . . .

The rivers that go under the road (without warning) are beautiful but look how there’s no guard rail or anything that would stop your car from going over!!!

Me and Victor.

Carmina and Me.

More beautiful scenery.

We purposely took an extra long route to Cuamba to avoid roads and “bridges” that rivers might run on top of during the rainy season. Well it turns out those are impossible to avoid. I have read too many things that say you should never ever try to cross a river in your car (for tons of good reasons). So when we came to the first place where the river was actually running OVER the “bridge” I for sure would have been disappointed that our road trip had come to an end and turned around and driven back. But Victor is not scared of things like I am and he was driving. I think that Carmina thought just like me – when we saw the river flowing on top of the bridge – we thought our trip on this road is over and we will have to turn back. Victor got out of the car and went down to the river. He watched people walk their bicycles across it and it was only knee deep on top of the “bridge” part. Victor decided we would try to drive across the “bridge.” (This is the first time on the trip when I felt traumatized.) We weren’t going to be driving across a shallow river, we were going to be trying to drive on top of a bridge that a river was flowing on top of!!! A bridge with no rails or indication of where it was!!!

Victor walking down to the river to see if there was any hope for driving across the “bridge” – yes, supposedly there is a “bridge” under there.

Victor decides, “Yes, it’s a good idea.”

We drove across the bridge and we made it!!! Yikes!!! That was SOOOOOO scary!!! I am sure that I lost several pounds from sheer fear!

After that we drove along so happily in bliss from having successfully crossed an underwater bridge. About half an hour later as we were cruising along we could see up ahead that people had barricaded the road with tree branches. We approached cautiously – looking around to see what was going on. Victor stopped the car and got out. We had passed some kids a few meters back and he motioned for them to come so he could ask them why people had blocked the road. The kids were scared to come to our car but then some older braver boys appeared and pointed down a newly cleared path in the bushes. Victor turned off the car engine and as soon as he did we could hear a loud rushing river! Victor asked the kids what was going on and they told him that the bridge going over the river had been destroyed. Instead of turning around, Victor asked the kids to “show him” and left Carmina and I in the car while he followed them down the new path in the bushes.

Victor was gone quite a while and when he came back he told us that there is a huge river and since the bridge over it had been destroyed there were trucks stranded on either side. In the meantime the local villagers had made some kind of thing like a dam where they piled up bushes and shrubs and sticks and stuff to stop the rushing water in this one part where there is a fork in the river. They had built up things to make it about knee deep in the narrowest part of the fork, right before a smaller river meets the huge rushing one. There were other vehicles stranded on the banks of both sides of the river and the villagers were helping them unload all their goods, carry them across the dam thing they had made, and then load them onto trucks on the other side. There was a crowd of people larger than you’d think could possibly live anywhere around there standing on the river bank watching all of this. One thing that is so fun and funny here is how you can think you’re in the middle of nowhere but if you stop for even five minutes – a crowd of at like 30 kids will appear out of nowhere to “watch” whatever it is you’re doing. Since people don’t have T.V.s they can only see “movies” that are “live.” Victor calls anything that is watched by a crowd a “movie” and everything in Mozambique gets watched by a crowd so I guess everyone here gets to be a movie star at one time or another.

Anyway – once again Carmina and I were sad that we would have to turn back and horrified at the thought of having to go back across the first river AGAIN!!! I told Victor to at least go take a picture of what was stopping us from continuing on. But instead he said, “No, we’re going to risk it.” First I thought he was joking but then when I saw he was serious I tried to talk him out of it by telling him about all the things I had read about the dangers of crossing rivers. But there are certain things that people in America learn about in books while people in Africa learn about them through experience and what the book says and what the experience teaches are not always the same. Take all that into account and then judge the situation for yourself. So Victor judged the situation and decided we could make it across.

Besides the whole river with no bridge/dam made out of sticks and bushes by villagers thing, there were two other obstacles to being safe on the other side. One was a gigantic truck that was stuck on the bank between us and the river, being unloaded with the goods being carried to the other side. The other was the fact that the river bank on the other side was pure mud and extremely steep. If by some miracle we actually made it across the river, the second we’d get to the other side we would probably be stuck almost vertically in mud and then either quickly or slowly slide backwards back into the river. Victor thought about this and had decided that if this were to happen we could get the truck on the other side to pull us up/out. But first we had to get around the gigantic truck being unloaded. You couldn’t drive around it because the bigger part of the river was on the other side. Victor tried to maneuver our car around the truck but it didn’t work. Then he asked people (who happened to be standing right there with shovels in their hands) if they could dig a space for our car. They said not unless he paid them. Since they said that, Victor decided to instead dig a path himself (I wish anyone reading this knew how funny this was) with like 50 people watching. Victor started breaking little sticks and uprooting plants with his bare hands and stuff. Finally when the shovel people saw that he was seriously going to dig a way all by himself, one man said he would help and dug a space for our car to pass by the truck (for free).

Victor then got in the car, drove through the crowd between the truck and the other river bank, and then drove slowly down into the river, accelerating as soon as we got to the water. I was praying the whole time that we would somehow “make it” and suddenly, though his foot was flooring the gas, we very slowly emerged from the river and were so slowly going up the super steep mud bank. We kept going without our car ever stopping or sliding backwards and got all the way up onto dry ground. So we made it!!! It was the BEST feeling ever and people on the other side were running up to our car to like congratulate us and ask us how we were and if we were happy!!! There was another SUV on the other side of the river that had been there a long time trying to figure out what to do. A white guy got out of the car and was videotaping the whole scene at the river. Their car went down the mud bank and also got across the river to the other side – they were clapping and cheering when they got across. I was thinking that for that driver and for Victor they probably felt towards their car the way a person would feel towards their dog if their dog had just pulled them out of some rapids just before going over a waterfall or something. Having an SUV 4WD Turbo in Africa is more essential than having water if you are going to drive anywhere. I have a completely completely different view towards SUVs after this day.

Oh yeah, Victor also went back and paid the shovel guy who had dug a path for our car. The other shovel guys had been asking for 10 mets and when Victor gave him 50 mets ($2) instead all the other guys who didn’t want to help dig said, “No! You’re only supposed to give him 10 (about 40 cents)!” Because of their attitude against the one nice guy who was willing to dig for free, Victor gave him 200 ($8) instead.

Approaching the scene at the river.

Trying to see if our car would fit around the stranded truck.

People carrying goods across the river from one truck to another.

Emerging into the water to cross.

Scene from the other side.

After that we found ourselves in several light rain storms and were so thankful that they came before and not after those river crossings. We didn’t have to cross anymore rivers but continued to find many scary “bridges” where the whole bridge was a gigantic pothole puddle with less than a foot of dry bridge on either side. We ran into quite a few forks in the road where there was absolutely no way to figure out which way to go except to ask somebody.

Fork in the road in the middle of no-where. Victor and Carmina trying to figure out which way to go when there was nobody there to ask.

I think that several hours were added onto our trip because we took the wrong direction at one of the forks. But who cares about how long something takes! All I care about is getting there safely. The last few hours were kind of stressful because we were in complete darkness except for the car lights and there were tons of potholes and billions of those “not bridges” where a river would go under the road with no warning.

We finally arrived in Cuamba after 8pm. It ended up being a good trip, but I don’t EVER want to go that way again and we will find a different way home when we leave here, probably through Malawi.

When we finally got to Cuamba we were greeted by Madalena (Victor’s sister) and her husband Lazaro. They fed us a big meal of goat with rice and beans. I think it was the best goat I’ve ever had. We went to bed and slept in really late the next morning.

Milo chocolate drink . . .

and bread for breakfast.

Madalena and Carmina.

One last thing . . . we also found this in the bushes outside of Cuamba . . .

A tank left over from the Civil War – it’s still sitting right there in the bushes!

I wrote all of the above before this happened . . .

We had a nice week in Cuamba and on Tuesday we planned to drive to Malawi the next morning. Victor was fine the whole day but then around 8pm he suddenly got an extremely high fever. The fever lasted the entire night and as soon as it was light out the next morning we took him to the one and only hospital in Cuamba. The conditions in the hospital were the worst I have ever seen. There was no doctor and only two workers to handle hundreds of people who were sitting and laying in every hallway, corridor and porch. There were less than ten beds and the sheets had blood on them. There is no way they are changing the sheets more than once a day (if that) and the second one patient is up there is another in a chair or on the floor who moves onto the bed. They gave Victor a blood test which got lost. I followed different people around the hospital and went in and out of different labs for two hours trying to track it down until I finally got someone to do one again. In the meantime they gave him an IV with rehydration fluid and antibiotics and a quinine injection. They had nothing to reduce fever so I gave him Tylenol out of my purse and Madalena and I were pouring water on him the whole time. When they finally got the blood test results they said it was not malaria and didn’t know what it was. After the IV Victor was able to walk again and we took him back to Madalena’s house. His fever never ever went down. A missionary doctor in Nampula helped us figure out antibiotics to take and we called an MAF plane to evacuate Victor back to Nampula where there is a good clinic. This is the worst experience I have had here and the worst/scariest day and night of my life. But I do have to say that people near and far comforted us greatly through all of this.

Immediately before this happened Carmina had gone home on the train and Madalena had become sick with malaria. So while we were in the hospital it was just me and Victor alone and was the worst and scariest feeling ever. Then three men from Madalena’s church came and prayed for him and then Lazaro and Madalena got there. When we got home other people from church kept coming by to pray and during the night Madalena and Lazaro stayed outside and we all slept on concrete slabs in the yard. I stayed on the phone with my family and Victor’s family and missionaries in Nampula helped us tremendously – especially the doctor and the MAF family. After the MAF flight we spent the whole day at the clinic in Nampula where they found that Victor had blood poisoning and then finally came back to the orphanage. Now we are camped out on the living room floor with lots of kids and Victor’s family in our living room. We can not thank people enough for their prayers and ask for people to continue praying for Victor’s full recovery and no side effects from the medicine.

MAF (Missionary Aviation Fellowship) plane. I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of the pilot but he and his wife were awesome. I have always been scared of little planes (and never dreamed I would be taking one in a few days when I wrote the first half of this blog) but it ended up being the last thing on my mind considering Victor’s condition. I don’t think I’ll be scared of small planes after this because the flight was perfectly smooth.

A nurse from the clinic came in the plane and got an IV going before we even took off. The nurse is our favorite from the clinic and told Victor it had been his life’s dream to go in an airplane.

Sadly Victor didn’t get to enjoy the spectacular view as he was in such bad shape.

Our neighborhood from the air.


momsi/Nonni said...

I praise God for the Pilot. his wifeand nurse who came to save Victor. We were so very concerned for you both. Please know we are continuing to pray for a complete recovery and that you my dear Christina will get well(as of this morning when we got your e-mail).
Much love,Momma nichols

Heather & Rick said...

hey there. my husband and I are working at a mission about an hour outside of chimoio- where are you in relation to chimoio? We have just recently started to look into adoption, and are needing to find an adoptable child. Does your orphanage have infants? and if so, any that are adoptable? (ie - have NO family able to care for them) We firmly believe kids should be wit their families first, so we are trying to find a child who doesnt have that option. I love your blog.. check out ours..

Mabuzi Custom t-shirts said...

Hi Guys,
I hope Vick is OK. I am worried as I have been e-mailing and have had no reply. Please let me know he is ok.

I have a friend driving up from South Africa with some laptops and possibly a IT teacher.
We will need to organise some details, like contact numbers and e-mails.
Please let me know soon...