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Sunday, February 13, 2011


The flat I experienced riding the trainer the other day got me thinking about breakdowns. I’ve had my share of flats while biking the roads around here, but all in all I’ve been lucky, not ever having a really major, ride-disruptive breakdown. It hasn’t been quite like that on the mission trips to Africa, though. Every trip has included multiple issues with our vehicles. And no, not all of them were driver-induced, thank you very much. Here are a few thoughts about some of the problems we had during our 2010 visit in eastern Uganda:

You know it’s going to be a long day when the spare tire falls out from under your Toyota van on a rough road in Kampala only minutes after you’ve set out for your destination in eastern Uganda. And this was after a belt broke on the same vehicle the night before as we were driving in from the airport in Entebbe. Then, a week later, as we were just starting a journey to northwestern Uganda, our Land Rover stalled just as we got into a roundabout. A popular roundabout it seemed on this morning. There were so many cars trying to get through that if you lined them up end-to-end, they would… well, I guess they WERE all lined up end-to-end, weren’t they? Anyway, we were sitting there like a rock in a stream, fluid waves of cars flowing around us.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I like that. But, with all due respect to the esteemed Mr. Emerson, we do need to have destinations. Without them our wanderings, no matter how exciting the journey, are aimless. If you allow me one more quote, then consider this from Alfred A. Montapert, “Do not confuse motion with progress.” Progress is an allusive concept until we have a destination towards which we can direct our travels. Only then can we measure how far we have come, judge where we are and prepare for what we have yet to do.

OK, Another quote, but this one is mine. I think. “A mission is a journey with a destination.” A meaningful destination adds excitement and a sense of urgency to a journey. And it puts things that happen along the way in proper perspective.

One of the things I noticed when the miscellaneous mechanical mishaps befell us was that we – the bazungu – were the only ones who seemed even the least distressed. For everyone around us, it was just another fact of the trip. Before we even got out of the car, people would suddenly appear to help. It was as if we had pulled up short in the middle of an auto-mechanics convention.

When the spare fell off, a young man came up and engaged in serious inspection and discussion before going off to get a sturdy rod to use as a tool to re-wire the tire onto the frame under the rear of the car. And a goodly number of young men were soon gathered around our stalled car to push it around and through the traffic in the roundabout. We then parked in front of a few shops and waited an hour or so for a replacement vehicle. Again, we were probably the only ones actually aware of the time.

I have to admit, I saw the breakdowns as interruptions in our mission trip. But now I see that they were, perhaps, integral parts of the journey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jack - enjoyed this post, especially the Montapert quote. I too experienced many breakdowns while on the rough Uganda roads - and the "experts" who suddenly appear to help. How we handle "breakdowns" (in a car or in life) says a lot about what we value.
-Julie Reagan