Friday, January 21, 2011

Why we are here

Into later and later hours, our white truck bucked, shuddered and groaned. Dust coated everything inside and congealed in my hair or settled on the floor. Constantly discerning whether the punishment inflicted on the vehicle bore excessive, I pushed on into the rushing hours of the late afternoon. Hostility surrounded us, beating down from a fierce sun, watching us blow past small, dung covered houses and scarce vegitation, and creaping up inside us as fear of the unknown beyond the next hill or curve.
We had a late start because of the catastrophic and unexpected departure of the rear "propeller" shaft last Sunday. When we returned to Loki I began searching for a replacement rubber coupling.

A missionary friend in Loki had a Discovery II parked in storage. However, he was away on home assignment. I asked Oliver, who was with the same mission group, if I could borrow a part from the stored car. He seemed reluctant, mainly since the owner was away and really valued the vehicle. "It's kind of his Golden Calf car!" Oliver said with a rushed German accent and the start of a gravelly laugh.

We agreed to just look to see if the parts would interchange between the two Land Rovers, then worry about permission if needed. The parts seemed identical.

Oliver called around to find information on the owner's location. We quickly learned many Discovery owners carry an extra drive coupling (for good reason). We started arranging for someone's extra part to come up in the morning on the AIM AIR flight. Then Oliver had a great idea:

"Maybe he keeps a spare also in this vehicle?"

Sure enough, a search through a cardboard box in the back produced a used but intact part.

"Wow, this must be God's provision!" Olly remarked.

I agreed. My euphoria went with me back to the house. I couldn't believe I found this part in Loki. Oliver didn't think the owner would mind me using the spare, and I promised to replace it with a new part.

We planned to leave in the dark hours of Tuesday morning. That would get us to Nairobi by Wednesday night. We would have two days to take care of immigration issues and wrapping up paperwork to end our first term.

Monday I installed the part. After wrestling all day with the "propeller shaft" (drive shaft in American) and the rubber coupling, I realized the severity of the dry rot in the used coupling. It functions like a universal joint that cushions the jerkiness of the drive train. That means it twists as it makes up the angle between the rear differential and the propeller shaft. Several cracks appeared to grow as they went through this twisting action. I guessed the owner removed the old coupling out of concern it might break apart, but kept it as a spare to get to nearest town.

The good feeling left me. I thought about it for a long time and decided I didn't want to depend on a part of unknown quality for the long trip to Nairobi. As a second confirmation, on the way to to our own farewell party, I took a detour on to the highway. At high speed heard an ominous rumble coming from the rear of the car.

On Tuesday, I told Sammy in Nairobi what the car needed, and he arranged for it to come up on a scheduled commuter flight on Wednesday morning. We packed the car, cleaned up around the house, worked on a few minor problems, then on Wednesday morning I took the propeller shaft off again. The part arrived at 10:30 am, and I installed everything by 11:30. We loaded up the car including our German Shepherd, tied the tarp down on the roof rack, locked up the house, and said good bye to Jon and Ginny, our co-workers there. By 1pm we were driving out of town.

We hoped to make it to Lodwar on smooth roads, then try to reach a town called Marich Pass that night. It would become dark before reaching Marich, a plan I did not relish. The drive to Lodwar went well, except when driving over broken patches of pavement I heard gravel hitting the front wheel wells. This made sense at the time, since kids like to fill the potholes with gravel and ask for hand outs as you speed past.

Breanna wanted to pick up Turkana baskets in Lodwar, since they make great gifts. While in Lodwar I noticed the gravel sound continued whenever we went over a bump. While Breanna talked baskets, I rooted around under the hood and around the car, determined to find something loose. I tightened the mount for one of the front shocks, and tightened up the roof rack.

We left Lodwar later than planned and headed out into the punished desert highway. I knew half our drive would be in the dark, but did not want to arrive in Nairobi any later than tomorrow. As the road deteriorated, the same creaking and pinging sound kept repeating itself over each bump. I figured it must be a cosmetic piece of sheet metal, since everything on the frame had been tightened and checked.

An experienced missionary described the road from Lodwar to Marich Pass as "a wide enough ribbon of pavement to hold the potholes together." The technique is to drive on washboard shoulders until they become unbearable, then swerve onto the road and avoid the craters up there. You tend to alternate back and forth, attempting to decide whether top or side brings less pain. As the car pounded on, I calculated I needed to average around 60 km per hour to stay on schedule.

The washboard seemed almost unbearable at 30 km/h or less. At that speed the whole car bounced into the air, my vision blurred, and steering became difficult. Around 60 - 80, everything settled down, though I knew the suspension was taking a beating. The challenge became controlling the car at that speed, and slowing before hitting the ditches or large holes in the road. Usually I could not see them in time, and everything went bang as the springs hit bottom, the load inside shifted, and the wheels sprung back into the car.

The worst pain on this road, I decided, was knowing what was happening to the car.

The sound in the wheel well grew worse after each large bump. We stopped at the edge of a small town, and I jumped out to look around for its source. I found a large crack in the thin metal body around the bolt that holds it onto the robust steel frame. Night quickly approached, and I did not know what town would have an adequately skilled welder. So, after two hours of road pounding since Lodwar, we turned around.

The kids expressed sincere displeasure. The oldest sobbed quietly, coiled in her seat like a seasick landlubber, while the youngest howled and whined like our often hungry pet cat. I think he was copying  his middle sister, who did the same performance.

Invariably, they had picked up on my dour mood and quiet apprehension watching pale headlights pierce the empty landscape. A shadow sometimes was just a shadow, but then a shadow was a cavernous hole that shook the wounded the car. We arrived at Lodwar, tired, worn thin, with a creaky vehicle. We found two rooms to stay in, and soon everyone was asleep. I laid on my bed, mentally planning the next morning. I would find the welder a missionary recommended, and also address a loose bolt in the roof rack and dust cover that fell off a front wheel. We were way behind schedule, but hopefully we could make it to Nairobi late Friday, and still accomplish a few necessary things.

Olivia, back on the road after sleeping in Lodwar
And the kids would be in good moods and enjoy the scenic drive. And they were, and the rest of the drive went without incident. Isaiah and Grace stood up facing backwards and pretended to ride a roller coaster.

We arrived in Eldoret at night. I took a bypass road that ended up being fairly deserted, instead of the main highway I thought it would be. Fortunately we had no incidents with breakdowns or break-ins. And a house that we thought would not be available became available because a lady found out we were coming. She made up fresh beds for us by candlelight since their power was out!

We rolled into Nairobi just after lunch time Friday. I set up a time with a mechanic on Saturday to look over the car, then took care of financial obligations and paperwork at the hangar.

We were going so slow in some areas, Isaiah was able to help me drive

Grace, Kili, and not so good vibrations
On Sunday, we loaded up again, this time with another family, and headed down to the coast for a week in a house we are sharing. We planned to spend a week away before coming on home assignment to put together a scrapbook and presentation to share with friends in the US. The road to the coast is beautiful and smooth, and we went almost the same distance as the previous drive in six hours instead of two days.

Breanna: Queen of the Scrapbook!
So what do I share with friends, both one on one, or in an auditorium over the next four months? One thing comes to mind, which I told Grace as she bawled and whined that night returning to Lodwar...

"Do you know why God chose for these things to happen?"

Grace paused, then said quietly, "No..."

"I don't know either, but I think part of it is to show us why we are here. The roads are so bad and getting much worse. Think of missionaries who are really sick or need to get to the city quickly, taking these roads would not be a good idea. That's one reason we are here... to help them when needed."

She remained quiet, but I know it penetrated her thoughts, and I won't be surprised if she brings it up again.

One of my greatest joys comes when the kids grasp another reason why we live where we do. I hope this trip made it a little closer to their reach.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Referendum Day

We planned to drive friends from Loki to Kakuma to vote in the South Sudan Referendum. 60 minutes later we sat down on the gravel shoulder seeking shade by the car.

The rubber coupling that attaches the drive shaft to the rear differential tore in two. The drive shaft fell onto the highway as we sped along. It scared a group of Turkana women and boys walking along the highway carrying water.

I pulled over, looked under the car, saw the missing shaft, and began walking back. The group met us, one boy holding the shaft in his hand, like a walking stick or a dead animal. He resisted my efforts to take it ... I think he wanted compensation for carrying it, but all I could say was Ajokenoi ... It means hello, thank you, and goodbye.

The group followed us back to the car. They didn't offer to help out. They wanted a lift. We tried to explain the car wasn't going anywhere. I kept saying Ajok. Not much help.

They also asked for our water and water containers.

I kicked myself for leaving tools behind for this "short" trip. I decided to use rope I brought to secure the rear drive spline and limp home using the front drive shaft.

As I got the rope out to begin tying, one of the teenage boys indicated he wanted it. Our friend, Chris, remarked: "Turkana road assistance. They come when you break down and ask for things. It's better than in Taposaland (just over the border in Sudan). They come with guns and just take what they want."
I immediately felt encouraged.

My attempt to drive with the front wheels failed. Even with the centre diff locked it would not move the car. This concerns me even now. Maybe a Discovery doesn't really lock the centre diff?

We tried calling our friends. The cell network gave us an error. I kicked myself for not bringing my sat phone.

I remembered that sometimes the diff lock takes awhile to engage. So Breanna sat behind the steering wheel, and Chris, Tabitha, and I pushed the car while in gear. It doesn't work. We tried going backwards. Then forwards. I tried to peek under the car while jogging beside Breanna, to see if the spline is behaving itself and not chewing up my rope. I almost tripped.

We stopped. I shot an SMS off to our friends. Help is on the way. We received an SMS from John, another Sudanese friend who just arrived at Kakuma to vote. He reported very long lines at the polling place.

I realized at this point that Kakuma was not happening today. Bre and I wanted to see the crowds and atmosphere as thousands of united Sudanese came together at the refugee camp. They wanted to express their voice for their freedom, by leaving a fingerprint in the SEPERATION box on the slip of paper they were given. But that was not our fate today.

Few cars travelled this road. Most who did blew past us without stopping. One overloaded hatch back stopped. I told him our friends were coming. I asked him where they were headed.


I looked inside. At least five or six passengers sat squeezed inside, all Sudanese, on their way to vote, probably their first time ever.

Tabitha, Chris' wife who is from Sudan, had said "These people are not good. In Sudan people would stop and help, not drive by or try to take things."

I told her the last car was going to Kakuma.

"See, they are Sudanese. They stopped!"

A Turkana lad came out of the thorny brush through the shimmering heat towards our car.

Breanna sat against the left front fender reading her kindle. I sat next to her, then Chris and Tabitha on the gravel next to me, by the rear tire. Their daughter, Hope, stood on a seat in the car, dressed in one of her best outfits. She was upset our portable DVD player stopped. The battery died.

Breanna has tutored Hope a few days, and often commented about how smart she is. She soon started finding other ways to pass the time.

The lad arrived at the car. He asked some questions I don't know. The problem with saying "ajok" is that people think I know what they are saying.

In Swahili he asked, "Is the car not going?"

I said "It is very bad."

Then he tapped the rear tire with his walking stick and pointed to his sandals. I guessed he wanted to make new sandals from the tire rubber. I told him no. He walked around the car to see what else he can ask for.

Soon he has left.

Then a military truck pulled over.
"What is wrong, man?" a Kenyan soldier asked.

I ran over and tell him.

"We could tow you to Kakuma if you have a tow strap."

I kicked myself for not having a tow rope.

I said thanks and goodbye, then walked back to our lonely car and my passengers sweltering in its shade.

"You know, these people here are good people!" Tabitha said.


Our friends arrived in a white Land Cruiser and towed us to Loki. The makeshift tow rope broke twice.
John arrived in Loki before us (his matatu passed us on the highway from Kakuma).
I focused on getting the car going, which is another post. Chris, Tabitha, and Hope took a matatu two days later.
The car problem set us back a day and a half for driving to Nairobi to get ready for home assignment. But we later realized, and thank God, that this was a blessing. The rubber coupling shredded itself before we left on our big trip, and we were at a place where friends could easily come. I now know to look at this Mickey Mouse part often to make sure another shredding doesn't leave us stranded!

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Location:Loki on the way to Kakuma

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Urgent: Prayer Needed for Sudan

We urge you to pray fervently starting now, for the week of
 referendum voting for southern Sudan. Pray for peace, for
 protection of the helpless and boldness for the Church in this pivotal time

The great divide across Sudan is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. Southern Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Jerry's flights take him into southern Sudan about 90% of the time, so you can understand why this referendum vote will potentially impact our lives, but especially ministry opportunities for the missionaries, pastors, relief & medical workers AIM AIR flies.

As for us personally, we have offered to take newlyweds Chris and Tabitha, he's an Australian and she's from southern Sudan, to Kakuma, about an hour from Loki. The refugee camp there is where Tabitha is registered, along with all the other southern Sudanese refugees in the area, to vote in the referendum beginning on Sunday. Jerry and I are interested in taking pictures, gauging the  mood and seeing the Kakuma camp up close for the first time.

Below are some faqs from BBC you may find helpful to guide your prayers

Almost four million people have registered to take part in Sunday's referendum on whether Africa's biggest country - Sudan - should split in two. The vote was a condition of a 2005 deal to end almost two decades of conflict between north and south.
Why do some southerners want their own country?
Like the rest of Africa, Sudan's borders were drawn up by colonial powers with little regard to cultural realities on the ground.
Southern Sudan is full of jungles and swamps, while the north is mostly desert.
Most northerners are Arabic-speaking Muslims, while the south is made up of numerous different ethnic groups who are mostly Christian or follow traditional religions.
With the government based in the north, many southerners said they were discriminated against and north and south have fought each other for most of the country's history. Southerners were also angered at attempts to impose Islamic law on the whole country.
Sudan's arid northern regions are home mainly to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in Southern Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own traditional beliefs and languages.

Who will vote?
Only southerners are eligible to take part in the poll, which means most people think the outcome is bound to be independence.
Nearly all of those who registered already live in the south - the hundreds of thousands of people who fled to the north during the war seem to have either gone home to register - as they were urged to do by southern leaders - or not bothered.
But at least 60% of registered voters must take part for the referendum to be valid - with low literacy levels and little history of voting, this may be more difficult to achieve than the simple majority needed for a verdict either way.
What happens next?
Voting lasts for seven days.
Assuming that the verdict is to secede, Africa's newest country will come into being on 9 July 2011 - exactly six years after the peace deal took effect. Then the hard work really begins.
Is Southern Sudan ready for independence?
To be brutally honest, no.
After years of warfare and being ignored by central government, the country-to-be which is larger than France and Germany combined has hardly any roads and not nearly enough schools or health services for its population of roughly eight million.
The SPLM former rebels who have been running the region since 2005 have at least gained some experience of governance.
They have lots of money from the south's oil fields but their critics say they have so far wasted much of it on the military and not done enough to raise living standards in one of the world's poorest regions.
Most people assume the new country will be called South, or Southern, Sudan but this has not been officially decided. Other suggestions are New Sudan or even Cush, after a biblical kingdom in the area.
What will happen to the north?
The immediate priority for the northern government will be to keep hold of as much of the oil revenue as it can, as most oil fields lie in the south.
Sudan exports billions of dollars of oil per year. Southern states produce more than 80% of it, but receive only 50% of the revenue, exacerbating tensions with the north. 
There is a dispute over one oil-rich area - Abyei - which is to hold a separate vote, possibly later this year, on which country to join. The north may also earn revenue from piping the oil over its territory to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
In terms of ordinary people's lives, both sides have agreed to let all Sudanese - in particular the many southerners in Khartoum - choose which nationality to take.
But President Bashir's announcement that he will implement a stricter version of Sharia in the north if the south secedes may prompt even more southerners to leave the north.