The driver engaged the 4 wheel drive and inched onto the slope. Immediately we started to slide into the darkness. For a moment I feared we would gather momentum and all would be lost, but thankfully after 10 feet we stopped. It was clear, ‘near’ or ‘far’ we were going nowhere. Somehow Leonard, the driver, managed to back off the slope and we slowly returned to school.
At 6am the next morning we set off again. At least the rain had stopped. We got to the top of the slope and pulled up. The next 2 hours were as close to watching British builders as you can imagine. A stream of locals walked the slope with Leonard. There was much sucking of teeth and shaking of heads. The message was clear, we would have to wait for the road to dry!! One sue sign was that a Toyota 4 x 4 had tried it only to end up with it’s front end in the ditch and back stuck out over the road! That took 10 young men and an hour to get out!
I now knew that ‘close’ was indeed far, and also was beggining to suspect that ‘short’ was in fact very long! So we watched a road dry.
Eventually at about 8.30 it was judged that we could try. It was prayer time again. The road had a convex camber of slippy mud with a three foot drainage ditch on either sde which would mean almost certain destruction for the car.
Amazingly Leonard made it. Move a few centimeters then slide ten or more meters, the steering wheel having little effect most of the time. After the first kilometer it got a bit better. But then the road turned downhill again. Another km of mud before the track bottomed out. And then….a twisty, rutted, river of mud uphill. I really thought we were truly stuck now. But with gears screaming and wheels, mud flying everywhere including in the vehicle, we eventually made it. Incredible!!!
Amazingly spot on the 3km mark the road became a beautiful compacted track that the Africans make so well. The next 40km to the tarmac road took us down through stunnng mountain scenery where the skills of charcoal burning, timber sawing, brick making all took place in stunning mountan scenery. Breathtaking.
So here’s he maths of how far is far. Just in case you need to make housecalls in utal Rwanda.
‘near’ = anywhere up to 50km on any kind of road/track
‘far’ = any journey cossing a national border
‘quick’ = anything up to 3 days
‘short’ = a journey for which ovenight kit may be essential
But more importantly amidst all my fear, annoyance, frustration and more, wasit worth it?
Perhaps he way to answer is to go back to the cnversation with my headmasters friends wife as we ate supper. She began by apologising for he unseasonal amount of rain, the quality of the roads, the lak of food, the simplicit of he house. ‘it is a great honour for us t have you visit the school.’ ‘why?’, I asked.
‘Because we are too poor, too far away. And the roads sre just too bad. No one is interested in us. Most people cannot be bothered so thank you for coming…..’
Suddenly my 12 hour journey in inhospitable conditions to the back of the back of beyond came into perspective. I never set out to do anything unusual, and most of it was in spite of my wish to be somewhere all together more comfortable, and to turn back.
But in God’s mercy the simple act of turning up at all was a deep and great blessing. In reality it was me who was honoured. Enough said. A real privelege and recalibration of my understanding and priorities.