On Friday, I realized the dream of meeting some serious needs that have been outstanding for several months. We received money from one of our supporting churches that made it possible for me to hire a truck to haul several needed items out to our churches in the refugee camp. I already had 30 bags of sand left over from another project, and to this I added 30 bags of cement. I arranged with one of my employees to purchase 40 matooke (cooking bananas) trees and four sacks of manure from his grandmother’s village. I went to one of our local nurseries and purchased 5 umbrella shade trees, 5 mango trees and 5 papaya trees. And I bought paint and brushes for the library building.
On Friday we began the process of loading everything into the truck to take out there. First of all, they came late, at 1 PM. It took them two hours to load the sand, because the sand was in bags protecting it from the rain, but these were too heavy to move, so they had to reduce the contents by half. At 3 we finally made our way to the hardware store to pick up the cement, and the workers hired to load the heavy bags of course were in no particular hurry. That done, we headed out to the village to get the trees and the manure. By now it’s four o’clock. Again, the workers were in no particular hurry. Even though my man had warned them the day before and urged them to be ready when we came, they had done nothing at all, so I had to sit for an hour and wait while they dug up all the trees, fetched the manure, and loaded everything up. Now it’s five o’clock, and I know it will take at least an hour to reach the camp, and another half hour to reach Sangano. The sun goes down promptly at 7 PM.
We finally begin heading to the camp, with everything packed along with a guy in the back monitoring to make sure nothing falls out. We never did more than 40 km/h. When we were nearing the checkpoint to the camp, the driver pulled over because the vehicle was making a knocking sound. We couldn’t figure out what it was (yet), so we kept driving.
I was ready for some hassle from the blue police (so-named for their blue came uniforms, the uniform of the Federal Police in Uganda) at the agricultural checkpoint at the entrance to the camp, and they did not disappoint. They were insisting that you can’t transport banana trees around in Uganda because of some unknown virus, and I was supposed to obtain a letter certifying their cleanliness or something (total nonsense). In the cab of the truck we’re all stealing glances at each other because we know very well this is more of a *hint*hint*wink*wink*nudge*nudge*can I have a bribe* scenario. I finally persuaded them to let us go, and next we had to get past the white police (so-named for their white uniforms, the uniform of the Traffic Police, whose job is to create traffic and solicit bribes from taxis). After some bantering in Runyankore, I persuaded them to let us pass.
We were running out of daylight fast, so we continued on to Sangano first, since the bulk of the stuff was for them. Timothy had all the people waiting for us, so we had ample help unloading. The reason I wanted to bring all the matooke was because in the base camp of Sangano, their ability to grow food is severely restricted. The other churches seem to have no restrictions, but at Sangano they are always faced with hunger, and the diseases that malnutrition inevitably causes. So my plan is to get a grove of matooke growing on the substantial unused portion of the church property, which will feed the whole church once the trees begin producing. All banana trees make more banana trees, so once you get your initial planting done, it is a self-renewing food source. They were quite excited, like kids on Christmas morning. We got everything out of there, leaving 5 bags of cement and sand each to take out to Kabazano, and 10 bags of cement and sand each to still haul out to Juru and Ngarama.
By the time we got everything unloaded and were underway again, it was full dark, and we still had two stops to make. The road to Sangano is being repaired, which makes it temporarily impassible when a big truck gets stuck in the ditch from the mud this creates, as had happened, so we had to loop around through a footpath in the woods to get back to the main road. I called ahead to let the people know we would be at Juru and Ngarama in 20 and 30 minutes respectively. Ha! At the juncture the driver turns left instead of right, so I said “Hey man, you’re going the wrong way! We need to go THAT way.” He mumbles something about needing food, and drives on to to a small string of dukas (shops). Then the real problem becomes clear – one of the front brake lines is leaking brake fluid like a sieve. So, they wandered off to find a mechanic, who likewise wandered off to find a spanner. This illustrates two general rules of Ugandan culture 1) No job, no matter how simple, shall take less than an hour. 2) No Ugandan mechanic ever knows where his tools are.
Finally, the “mechanic” returned with some spanners (wrenches), disconnected the brake line from the leaking hose, and decided he needed more materials, so he again wandered off into the darkness in pursuit of the means of causing further delay. I spent the time chilling by the truck, and admiring the beautiful stars you can’t see as well nearer to town. Finally, he came back with a nail and some twine. He proceeds to wrap the end of the nail with the twine to create a plug, then inserts this into the brake line and clamps it down, blocking it, effectively disabling that brake and stopping the leak. We are now driving through the mountains in a multi-ton truck with only three working brakes. Goody.
We continued to Juru, our next stop. As we were climbing the longish hill that leads to the turn off for Juru, we finally discovered the cause of the knocking sound we heard earlier as one of the hubs for the inside rear tires disintegrates and shreds the tire. I can see the turn to Juru, and we are once again stranded. They began changing the tire, and it becomes quickly apparent that neither of these guys knows how to change a tire. The jack they brought out of the cab is one of those tiny car jacks, and of course fails to raise the vehicle high enough to remove the tire. Some of them faded off into the darkness to see if they could find a jack. By this time, another truck came trundling by from the other direction. We flagged it down, and he let us borrow a jack actually designed for jacking up big trucks. Now the vehicle is raised high enough, but they continued to fuss with how to get the tire off (refer to Rule 1). It apparently does indeed take a village… to change a tire. At last, they got the tire changed and we were again underway. I was just praying at this point that we aren’t struck by a meteor en route.
We arrived at Juru at 10 PM. We got the cement and sand offloaded by the gentle glow of the light from our cellphones. Now they can get some badly needed repairs made to the church sanctuary here. Awesome!
We moved on, and arrived at Ngarama by 10:30 PM. Pastor Theogene is nowhere to be found. I briefly considered driving up the road to his house and rousting him out of bed, but decided against it, as he has a pile of kids who all look almost exactly like him and a new baby. So, the five of us would have to wrestle the sand and cement inside the church by ourselves. The first order of business was I had to figure out how to get into the church. I engaged in some breaking and entering on my own church building, which involves leaning on the back door and squeezing my arm in far enough to slowly slide the wooden pole out of the loops holding the door closed.
They recently, miracle of miracles, graded the road in front of the church. This makes the road smooth once again, but destroys the driveway you use to get up the incline to where the church building sits. The driveway is still too soft for even our vehicle to drive on really, let alone a big ole’ truck, so we had to lug those OUTRAGEOUSLY HEAVY sand bags all the way up the driveway to the church and inside. With a lot of grunting, strained muscles, and copious quantities of sand evenly distributed about our bodies, we finally got it done, and I got the church sort of locked up once again. It’s now 11 o’clock.
Fortunately, we made it home without any further incidents, and I drug my weary, be-sanded body into the house just before midnight. Mission accomplished.
All in a day’s work.
Thank you for those of you who donated funds to make this possible. All four churches now have the materials to make some much needed repairs to their buildings. Sangano has the beginnings of some fruit trees that will aid in feeding a lot of people in the future. Plus, they have shade trees that will one day give some welcome relief from the sun in the dry season. They can finish repairs and get the interior painted on the library building so I can at last begin taking books out there. Your money was used to help a lot of folks. Also, thank you to those who donated some funds for our car. I can finally work on replacing the tires, which will be safer for all of us as we drive back and forth to the camp.