Okay, so it’s been a long time since I’ve feared for my life. Doesn’t mean it’s been boring. Just safe.
In October I (Dale) made the three-day trek by car to Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. THREE DAYS! We were going to an international conference for “Community Based Rehabilitation” (CBR), which is the technical term for the ministry we do with people with disabilities.
The first day, I drove with my associate director to Niamey, the capital of Niger. We stayed there overnight and met up with 8 other folks who were also going to the conference. The next day, the 10 of us headed for Nigeria.
The trip started out great. We even saw 4 giraffes along the road! Except for a long border crossing to get into Nigeria, we thought all was well. We kept cruising along…until 10 hours later when the drivers started thinking we were lost. Apparently, we had taken a wrong turn early on and we didn’t really know where we were.
So the drivers (we were in two pick-up trucks) were flying. And I mean flying. They were going about 120 mph, which is nuts on African roads. One blown tire and, bang, it’s all over. Can’t control a pick-up truck at 120 mph with a blown tire.
So then it got dark, and we were still trying to reach a city with some sort of hotel to stay in overnight.
The rule is: when in Africa, NEVER EVER drive at night. Never. There are so many reasons it’s dangerous. Not the least of which are all the people driving with no working headlights. Pitch black…what’s that? Bang! Or maybe even worse, all the road bandits.
So we’re driving along in the pitch black, when we see a strange little light ahead. Our driver didn’t slow down at first because he was afraid it might be a bandit. At the last second, we see in our headlights that the light is from the flashlight of a policeman standing in the middle of the road. We slammed on the brakes, and the second car rear-ended us. Fortunately, our car was okay. The second car needed a new radiator.
So the policeman explained to me (because I was translating for our group) that he was on the road looking for bandits. “Because they just shoot everyone down and take their money after. They don’t bother threatening you.” NOT the most reassuring words to tell a traveler late at night in the African bush.
With the policeman’s words ringing in my ears, we headed off very slowly (because 5 of us were riding in the back of the truck). They were the longest 60 miles of my life, that’s for sure!
Six more times we were stopped. Each time was more unsettling than the last. The other times we were stopped, there were armed men camped next to the road. Apparently, they were all just local volunteers trying to keep the road safe. But man, in the dark, no uniforms, big guns…you don’t know if you should floor it and get out of there or what!
Well, we made it safely to a hotel that night (got the second car fixed) and drove on to Abuja the next day. Abuja was a great African contrast. It’s a city that was built recently to be, well, a capital city. (Depending on your age, you might remember learning that Lagos was the capital: which it was, until 1991.) Interestingly, “it’s not a city for poor people”, as one of my hosts said it. It’s criss-crossed with 4-lane highways and the streets are filled with actual cars, not motorbikes. It’s inhabited mostly by government workers and oil-company employees. And with all of that…no internet. What?!
Fortunately, the 4-day conference was worth the 6-days of traveling. The World Health Organization used the conference to launch its new “CBR Guidelines”, which was a big deal. There were a lot of seminars on program evaluations, inclusion of people with disabilities in society, and training of CBR workers. But the most interesting parts of the affair were the coffee breaks, when we could talk with some of the 450 other participants from all over the world. We compared notes and discussed new ideas. It was very exciting for someone like me…trying to figure out how to lead a disabilities ministry in the African bush.
So there were only a couple of small adventures on the way home. There was nothing as momentous as the trip to Abuja.
"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)