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

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