Sunday, January 25, 2009

ON THE ROAD TO LIKASI -- OR MANDALAY -- OR WHEREVER

OK - OK -- so it's a bad title for a blog. "On the Road to Mandalay" was an old Bob Hope - Bing Crosby movie-- seems like it was pretty decent in its day. I was searching for a title and this is the best my tired old brain could do.

One thing they didn't have in any of the Hope - Crosby movies was a statue like this, which is in the main roundabout in Likasi. It honors Congolese women. And well they should be honored. The women here are incredible -- they do almost all of the work, all of the nurturing of their families. One of the hardest things to teach men here is that they can't hide behind the traditional responsibility of "protecting their family" anymore. They need to get out and be bread winners and providers, and not just sit under a tree and play checkers or talk and drink beer all day, waiting to "protect their family". Fortunately, the "Proclamation to the World on the Family" issued by the leaders of the church in 1995 clearly defines the God-inspired roles of husbands and wives as equal partners in their families, and the goals to be eternal families as well.

And fortunately, nearly all Congolese women are now completely dressed and not like the woman so gracefully reposing in the statue.

For the rest of this blog, we're going to take you along the road from Lubumbashi to Likasi, which is the best road in all of Congo. Except for about 15 tooth-rattling miles, it is a hard-surfaced two lane road of 100 miles, smooth and capable of high speed travel.

Except that high speed travel can be dangerous. The roads are littered with the wrecks of accidents, and mechanical failures. Nothing here is really maintained -- it is just used and abused until it doesn't work anymore. The end result are some really interesting pictures. We could have shown you the car pictures, but the pictures of trucks are far more graphic and fun to see. So here goes.

With all the potholes and unsurfaced stretches of roads, if you don't maintain your truck (car), sooner or later your suspension is going to fail, or a wheel rolls off. Several weeks ago I was driving east of Kinshasa when I noticed a car about 100 meters in front of me coming in my direction, vere (spelling?) across my lane and into the ditch. Meanwhile, half the front axle, still connected to the left front tire, came bouncing down the road towards me. I slammed on the brakes and waited to see which direction I should try to use as an escape route. Fortunately the tire/axle careened into the ditch about 30 meters short of my SUV.

Don't know what happened when this truck lost its left front tire or had a suspension failure, but the resulting swerve across the road and into the ditch in our lane must have been pretty interesting.
Most trucks are used/abused until they die. This veteran has seen a lot of wear and tear on its bed. Notice the rear axle. It's supposed to have dual tires, but when the tires wear out or whatever, they just take that tire off and run with a single tire instead of dual tires on the rear axle. And then they overload the truck terribly, so that blowouts and flat tires are very common. When the tire blows, the BANG! is deafining, and the resultant lurching to a stop is always interesting. You just hope you are not next to or close to the truck.
When someone breaks down, they don't carry "warning reflective triangles", but rather just put several clumps of grass on the road that warn you there is trouble ahead. Often the clumps of grass are hard to see. This poor truck here actually didn't see the clump of grass for another truck on the road, with the resulting accident that disabled this truck. But at least he now has put out a clump of grass to indicate that he is broken down in some fashion.
OUCH -- this is the front of the truck in the prior picture. When we were going to Likasi early in the morning, we actually saw the truck that had been stalled on the road and which this truck had rear-ended. The cab of the "rear-ender" was just demolished. We hope that no one was too badly hurt.
Because the trucks generally are so old, they usually aren't worthy of repairing. So they are just pulled off the road, and the parts scavengers arrive and only leave the frame and metal cabs, like this accident victim here.
So driving is always an adventure, and you hope that there are no serious problems that would interrupt your trip and force you to stay overnight along the way. As far as we can tell, this is the only hotel on the road between Lubumbashi and Likasi, and in all honesty, we would prefer not to have to stay here.

So there you have another little slice of life in the Congo. We don't post these for sympathy -- just for your information, and want you to know that we love these people with all our hearts. Their life here is so challenging in relation to what our life is, and yet for the most part they are very honest and God-fearing people. And when the Gospel comes into their lives, they are incredible.

Don and Marsha

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