On occasion I have these existential moments, where time seems to pause, and I consider if what is happening around me is in actuality, real. Can it be, that what I am experiencing is actually occurring? And how did the collections of events or fragments of circumstance pool together in providential randomness?
So one of these moments hits me while I am in the LandRover, driving hours from nowhere to nowhere (literally), kids are playing DS, interrupted by Nathan shouting over the din of the corrugated roads, “There is puking back here”… stop the car to help the little motion sick Samburu boy, Lareno, while listening to Dolly Parton and Kenny Roger’s version of “The Gambler” which our other passenger had playing on his cell phone!
I think unless you drive the roads of Northern Kenya, there is no appreciation of the vast and endless wilderness that comprises the North. We are truly, I am discovering living in ‘the sticks’, and I am not meaning Burford, Ontario! We are 10 hours away from the nearest grocery store, at least 5 hours away from a functioning hospital and source of fuel! Our travel day begins at 700 am, which is an hour later than hoped for. We go from bumpy, dusty, muddy, sandy, corrugated, rocky roads,- through mountain ranges and over rivers. The first 3 hours we have only made it about 65 kilometres, driving at times only 20km/hour as we are tossed about and thankfully not outside of the car. But as a standing precaution,windows are required to be rolled up at least 3/4 so no body can be thrown from the vehicle while traversing tricky roads. Lareno, who is otherwise fondly known as the Juicy Fruit Junkie was riding in the back. He came, along with his brother, Benedict to Nanyuki so he could see a doctor for his swollen knee. It was apparent that Lareno had been a benefactor to the family clothes donation. Usually he wears a small wrap around his waist, but today as he met us at the car, he had a t-shirt, a vest that nearly made it down to his knees, a pair of threadbare shorts and his mother’s shoes. Benedict who works as a volunteer teacher at the Girl’s Nomadic School where Jay teaches had brought pants, coat and a papaya. It took 10 hours to reach Nanyuki. One stop for diesel in Merille, finding jeri cans to fill the car with a funnel, and then onward with the last 4 hours on luxurious and beautifully paved roads! Although the elephants eluded us again this trip, we did see silver backed jackal, impala, a troupe of baboons, warthog, zebra and ostrich.
We arrived just at dusk and decided to find a place to eat before settling into our lodging for the night. The kids were excited to have restaurant food and quickly decided on a hamburger with fries. About 45 minutes later our order arrives. The plate in front of Lareno likely more food than he sees in a week, he picked at the goat and left the fries and salad which would be unfamiliar fare for a Samburu nomad. Nathan and Luke near drooling in expectation curiously look at their order, faces aghast. There is no shielding their disappointment as they examine their order. I wave the waiter,- excuse me sir, I don’t believe this is what the children ordered. “Yes, madame, it is”. “But, these are not hamburgers”, “Yes madame they are”. He disappears for a moment and returns with a plastic packaging that says “sandwich ham”. “You ordered a ‘ham’ burger, and so the chef went out and bought what you asked for”. No denying it,- I did say “hamburger”. Good thing I didn’t say “hotdog’.
We had anticipated the ‘supply run’ being a bit of a break (to be honest after about 10 weeks in Kurungu non-stop, I had visions of leisurely drinking Dormans coffee while sitting under a patio umbrella)- but at the end of two days , the first of which took Larena and Benedict to hospital for X-rays, testing and evaluation, (no fracture, just a very bad effusion and infection), the second day being spent gathering items like squirrels hiding their nuts for the winter and then taking another 3 hours to pack boxes and 4 hours to pack a trailer, I think we are more exhausted now than when we started out. (I did manage to get a ‘take-away’ Dormans which I was very excited about!)
Our return journey
Up at 4:45am to get a good head start on the day. Need to be in Korr by 12:20 to meet the MAF plane that my brother Aaron is arriving on. Out the door by 5:30 am with sleepy children curled up like snails trying to keep body heat from escaping. Off on our way,- a great start, sunrise over the snow peaked Mt. Kenya, chai and some breakfast at Isiolo and onward toward Merrile. Coming down from the plateau we make good time. Upon approaching the end of the tarmac I sense that something is awry… Jay is slowing the car, revving the engine, listening for sounds. Never a good sign. We stop at a hoteli in Merille,- the kids literally playing the guessing game of how many more minutes it will be before they can see the infamous “uncle Aaron”. They have rehearsed with Jesse, “Say Uncle” … “unca” “say Aaron” …. “aywon’ . They get so much pleasure out of this on-demand entertainment.
At the travellers choice Inn in Merrille,- Jay breaks the news that the “turbo” on the car is likely broken. Mechanically impaired, the gravity of the situation not quite sinking in. Jay tries to explain,-the Turbo is what gives the engine the power. My response, “can you give it some oil” (which is my answer for any car issue). Jay rolls his eyes and sighs with having to even attempt a reply to my query. Jay puts it to me in another way. Laura, we are stuck here. The car cannot travel any further. We have no network and no way of calling anyone to alert (1) Aaron who will be landing in about 2 hours into Korr, (which competes for the top honour of being one of the hottest places in North Kenya surrounded by desert, lava rock and absolutely no shade! ) or (2) help to rescue us from the middle of nowhere with 4 children, 2 patients, and three months supply of meat, vegetables and supplies melting in the trailer.
So as it hits me,- the powerlessness of being without communication and the resignation of having to stay put in “the traveller’s choice’ hoteli for an undetermined period of time. I am not feeling thankful.
So for 6 hours I sit (rather despondently with the sinking feeling of how the day is transpiring with momentum of a train off its tracks). I watch the children who are quite oblivious to our desperation as they teach Lareno how to play table hockey using a plastic lawn table and glass coke bottle caps as the puck, and are pretty stoked that they each got a whole soda. Birds fly in and out of the concrete structure, painted a combination of lemon yellow and smurf blue. The doors are open to the breeze, the fact of which a goat takes full advantage to come in and wander, which seems a bit perilous and reckless given that goat stew is the only item on the menu. There is a man sleeping in the corner and a few patrons who have turned their chairs to face the wazungu as if we were on stage at a theatre. Jesse has made friends with a little boy with one arm, who keeps following him around calling out “toto toto” (child). If we near the door, a group of Rendille and Samburu flock to see the spectacle. After a few hours it seems that Jay has made progress with our communication issue. He has found a Rendile man who has a phone with wireless network. Paying the man to use his phone, he happily agrees to allow Jay to make a few calls.
1) call the radio controller with AIM to alert the pilot to tell Aaron that we will be delayed in picking him up from the airstrip in Korr
2) call the Swanepoels in Nanyuki who can Facebook Korr (as they have internet but no phone tower) requesting transport to pick up the Callaghans stranded in Merrille.
and pray, wait and hope these messages get through.
The radio message sent to AIM Air was overheard by Bruce Buck, who is an expert mechanic and was only an hour away at the time. Bruce and Karen kindly stopped to evaluate the situation with the car. We also hear that a lorry from Korr has been dispatched to come find the Callaghans. Bruce evaluates that the turbo definitely not in it’s best form, maybe bad fuel, maybe overheated? Reduce the load and see if that helps. So, we decide that we need to leave the trailer behind. Before Bruce and Karen leave to continue on their trip, they introduce us to Pastor James. Pastor James, having retired from the military has been the volunteer pastor of the small church at Merille for the last 10 or so years. Changing venues from the Traveller’s choice to Pastor James’ house, allows us for a place to sit without a town circling the door of the hoteli to sneak a peak. The pastor puts out three plastic lawn chairs and we sit in the shade made from the shadow of the house as the sun wanes. We sit looking into the yard, staring at each other, looking out for lorries, watching the chickens, peaking at the children peering through the cactus fencing, listening to the FM radio, tied together with string, perched on an overturned bucket.
Pastor James has salt and pepper hair, a wide smile, wears a sun hat, and brings out a short hand notebook for us to write our names. He introduces us to his 4 month old son Piano. I am afraid my mood has not shifted much from despondency, perhaps I am moved on to resignation. I have no bit of energy in which to entertain a happy face or a conversation. At this point, I realize there is no way to get to Kurungu by nightfall. It is likely that all the meat and dairy we have brought up will be spoiled. I am feeling rather low and rather guilty for feeling low at this point, especially given it is Thanksgiving and I have only been internally griping these past 6 hours. So, fighting the angst within, I challenge myself to make a list of things to be grateful for. This is my, “It could be worse” list. At least we have our health. At least we have some shade and water. At least we were not attacked by shifters on the road, at least we could get a message out. At least we still have dry food, at least, we think, Aaron is not melting on the Korr airstrip. At least things can only get better as it is pretty difficult to get much worse…
The Lorry arrives at 5:00pm,- we are busy unpacking the trailer and shifting all the items to the trailer. The 4 hours of work it took to carefully pack boxes and crates and plants , food and hardware supplies in the trailer dissolves in a few moments of quick shuffling of random items into the back of a 2 tonne Lorry. We are racing the sun that is quickly sinking. The 3 hours to Korr will end in a dark arrival. It is arranged that we will follow in the car and if we experience any issue, we will join our supplies in the back of the Lorry. I visualize trying to balance the beams while carrying Jesse. I picture Nathan as he monkey bars the top of the vehicle on bumpy roads. Lord have mercy seems to be the only thought in my head.
As we drive in the fading sunlight, it is a bit easier to be thankful. Sunshine always seems to have this effect on me and my mood lifts just a bit as I watch the sun set over the mountains. We see a cheetah crossing the road and I marvel at the God of creation. The car seems to be managing well without the trailer now and I reflect on how thankful I am that we are on the road once again heading somewhere, that we didn’t have to stay the night in Merille or have the car towed. I am thankful that we have children who seem to be managing catastrophe quite well given their low caloric intake of the day. My mind recalls that that there have been far too many occasions in which Grace was afforded to me in ways that I did not understand at the time, in ways that were difficult to bear, but in ways also in which mercy was dispensed far beyond my understanding. Who understands the mind of God or how He orders or ordains things to occur? Although I do not take a purely calvinistic approach (still believing that many of our life experiences are entirely derived from the natural conclusion of our own choices) But there is also the sense that God orchestrates in ways beyond the depth of my understanding. I can not reason as to the ‘why’ except to believe wholeheartedly that He is good, that “He’s got my back”. My good is not always what I have in mind for myself. I want the easy way. The path with the least resistance.
By 8:30pm we had arrived at Korr, met up with Uncle Aaron who had been “found” on the airstrip and hosted very graciously. We were settled into the “A” frame corrugated steel guest house We dig out a container of yogurt and make some tea just to ensure no one will fall into a hypoglycaemic coma before morning. And we wearily collapse onto mattresses.
I wake up to a dream of chasing someone in a rainstorm. It seems freakishly real. I feel water on my face. Wait,- that IS water on my face. The sound of a thousand sticks banging on metal and the smell of moisture sinking into hot sand awakens me enough to realize that it is pouring rain. Ah, nice, a good breeze, the smell of the rain, the UNCOVERED LORRY! I wake Jay who is sleeping quite effortlessly in this deafening deluge. He jumps up, closes the windows before it hits him. Our supplies! We were prepared to face the loss of all our meat, but now, all the rest of our food and supplies! I am too tired to process. I am too spent to cry,- instead I start laughing. Ok God, it hasn’t rained here one drop in five months, why tonight? what next? Jay finds a tarp in the pitch black, pouring rains in time for the rain to stop. The rest of the early morning was spent shifting children’s mattresses around the flooded floors. 7:00 can’t come soon enough. The driver of the Lorry in a hurry to get going. This time not chasing a waning sun but threatening storm clouds.
We arrive in Kurungu by Chai time. Exhausted, covered in dust, porch filled with sopping boxes of supplies, but we are ecstatically happy to be back home. There is that feeling that you get when on vacation for a long while, when you ’round the bend’ to your home, where familiarity seems to wrap you with a warm greeting of welcome. The day is spent unpacking, sharing Kurungu with Uncle Aaron and witnessing the miracle that unfolded. As we opened up our boxes of supplies that were packed and pitched and moved and soaked….. there was not ONE thing that was ruined, not an egg cracked, not a vegetable spoiled, the crate of flour remained dry, the jars of pickles and mayo and boxed crackers and cookies were whole! And our meat,- still cold!