By Aaron Aroriza, Uganda:
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware”. I'm inclined to agree with Martin Buber on this.
We set off from camp late afternoon on our journey back to civilization. Twenty five kilometers later, in a place with no mobile network, the car developed a severe mechanical problem. It had had enough. Two fan belts had come to the end of their endless rotational journey. And as if to mourn the death of its tireless loyal companions, the engine had started overheating.
I would have said we were in the middle of nowhere. But then I looked around and saw we were surrounded by a beautiful landscape, green and largely flat with a few rises that attempted to beautifully break the monotony – and succeeded at it. Not so far away from us, we could see a herd of zebra's peacefully grazing. Soon, I thought I sensed movement in the black muddy water pond that lay so close to the road just a few meters behind us. Buffalos covered from horn to tail with black mud were beginning to get uncomfortable with our presence. A few minutes ago they had been calmly enjoying their mud bath, well camouflaged and hardly recognizable. Now they were beginning to shift uncomfortably. No, we weren't in the middle of nowhere. We were in the middle of a gazetted wildlife national park. And we were the intruders.
How long these animals would keep their hospitability, was a subject I didn't want to think about. Soon we were in luck. An old truck approached – the type the locals use to transport sand. We waved it to stop and I sighed with relief as it slowed down and gradually came to a stop. The driver, a lanky dark man in his late forties, was surprisingly amiable. And he had an old spare fan belt. Luck was on side again and the size was right. We fitted the belt in our car and were soon back on the road thanking our gods for the journey mercies.
We thanked them too soon – those undependable small gods. We were using one fan belt to do work that is always done by two fan belts. The stress on it must have been so much. Add that to the fact that it was old and worn out and you would start wondering how naïve we could have been to be quick in thanking those gods.
But we were at least out of the national park now. The old fan belt had broken after delivering us from the lions' den. And we even had mobile network at our new vehicle breakdown point. Perhaps we had something to thank those gods for after all. Never mind that we were still more than 100km away from real civilization.
After making a few calls, we were advised the best thing to do was get a temporary solution for the car and drive back to camp which was now about 40km back. There was a mechanical shop and hopefully the mechanics would help us. It was now 6pm and if we delayed, we would be in trouble since the car wasn't going to have lights. One of the broken fan belts had been responsible for running the alternator which in turn would recharge the battery. Now that it was broken there was no more battery recharge which meant we wouldn't have lights even if we managed to get the vehicle moving again somehow.
We did get it moving alright – after digging deep into ingenuity. Then we headed back to the national park resigning to the fact that we couldn't continue with our journey back to civilization. How that happened, only the gods know, but as we approached the point where we had had our first mechanical breakdown, our temporary solution gave way. We were stuck in the same place again – only this time, we were facing the opposite direction.
The sun was setting and it was the ugliest sunset I've ever seen. It's indeed true what they say, 'we don't see things as they are. We see things as we are.' Soon the sun was completely gone – it was dusk and we were surrounded by animals in their own habitat. If they attacked us and some human activist later placed charges on them, they could argue that they had done it in self defense – the beasts.
The silence was deafening, fear evident on everyone's face. Once in a while the animals would make some funny sounds, perhaps discussing amongst themselves which would be the right moment to play with the intruders.
But you shouldn't write off the gods so fast. Before the animals could agree on whether to play with us, we saw car lights in a distance coming towards us. A few minutes later we could even hear the sound. Why the dirty drunk turn boy in the back of that truck would have two fan belts that were a perfect fit for our car is something I would like to give as testimony in a church that has a pastor who won't ask me for money. But we were saved by the bell at the stroke of darkness. Soon we were back on our journey to civilization, driving at breakneck speed, leaving trails of thick dust as we put distance between us and the beautiful Kidepo valley national park. Gulu was waiting.
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