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.

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