Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tunneling with Grandpa

"Is that a bat?!?" Grandpa was saying, trying to conceal the concerns that were running through his mind as he sensed something large flying about his head.  We were about halfway through a long tunnel that provided a passageway for water running down the mountain to get under the railroad tracks - and a fast way for us hikers to get back to campus.

Grandpa getting ready to plunge into the tunnel with the grandkids.

"No," I said,  "it is just a moth that happens to be as big as a bat."

Grandpa chuckled.

"It sure it a good thing Grandma isn't here," he said.

The image of Grandma stooped over in the dark tunnel with slime, cobwebs, and moths the size of bats flashed through my head and I heartily agreed that it was good that Grandma was not with us.

Instead we had Little Foot teasing Grandpa about being a cheater for turning on his flashlight app on his smartphone when we were in the darkest part of the tunnel.  Clearly the kids found the tunnel exciting rather than traumatizing.

I also teased Grandpa for turning on his flashlight, but I have to admit, it sure was nice to have.

Anna scooting down the ravine to get to the tunnel.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Warning: Road Hazard Ahead

I heard a cry, muffled by the nightly Kijabe wind, as I was walking back to my house.  I turned and saw someone lying on the road in a heap about 25 yards behind me.  It was CrazyMom.  She had just tripped over a rock embedded in the road and broken her hand . . . and it was the eve of the first day of school.

My father and I had just returned from Nairobi after a 10 hour excursion to collect a few remaining students from the airport.  After a stressful drive back to RVA in the dark, we had parked the school van and were heading back to the house when CrazyMom, returning from helping out in a dorm, saw us.  In running to catch up, she tripped and fell.  Dad and I had survived our road hazards that night without injury; CrazyMom had not.  CrazyMom’s fall has caused me to reflect on the many road hazards we have seen over the last year in Kenya.

The first road hazard to be aware of are the matatus.  These vehicles, just a bit larger than a mini-van, are the backbone of the public transportation here in Kenya and with the vast majority of the population not able to own a car, they are everywhere.  The reason that they are a road hazard is that it is costly for a matatu owner to take their car off a route for a couple of days to fix it up and then get the yearly inspection done.  It is cheaper to pay a bribe for the inspection and keep the vehicle on the road.  Yesterday (Friday) the brakes on a matatu failed as it was coming down the mountain to Kijabe.  It rolled - but thankfully not off a cliff - and sent many of its passengers to the hospital, including at least one of the national workers here at RVA.

One also has to watch for animals on the roads.  There is the standard herd-in-the-middle-of-the-road hazard, but also donkeys that won't budge even after you bump them with the front of your car.  Even more dangerous are the goats that get startled and dash out in front of a car.  If you hit one, since you are rich enough to own a car it is automatically your fault and you will have to negotiate payment with the owner.

Then there are people everywhere.  I will be driving along the highway at night passing people who are between my car and the concrete divider in the middle of the highway.  People will be carrying all sorts of goods, pushing wheelbarrows and pulling carts, and walking on the roads in heavy traffic.  It is dangerous and as a driver, it keeps you on constant high alert.

The boda-bodas (motorcycles) on the road carry people and goods where matatus can’t go.  They drive any direction they want on a road and often are overloaded with people, couches, wood, and, yes, even cows.

Sleeping policemen (speed bumps) are a big hazard as well.  They are almost never marked and occur even on major roads.  In our first month in Africa a woman with us received a concussion from hitting her head on the roof of the car when the driver did not notice the sleeping policeman in time.  I hit one hard enough that we had to pull over and check the car for damage.  If only they were marked . . . .

Fog and dust.  At our elevation, fog sets in on a regular basis and gets so thick that it is hard to see anything.  It's hard to know whether to slow down so you don't hit somebody or keep going so you don't get hit. Then down in the valley there are dust storms that block the view.

When driving in the valley, there are places where the road has dropped anywhere from a foot to 15 feet.  The driving speed is  usually slow enough that there is not much danger of falling in, but I always wonder if I will be on a road when it collapses.  The previous owner of my car had a road collapse below the car.  A group of people came and picked up the car by hand and set it on firm ground.
Rocks in the road, mud, accidents, oncoming trucks in your lane (although the photo is of us in the lane of the truck) and much more is the reason why, after getting everybody in the car, we pray before we set out to go somewhere.  We are thankful that at the end of a year in Africa our only road accident was not involving a car, but rather simply tripping on a rock in the road.