This story will have to be divided into 2 or 3 parts. The return trip deserves its own entry.
Abraham, one of my students was over for dinner and talking to one of my housemates. The soccer game was pretty loud, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation. Suddenly Abraham turned to me and said “You like adventure, don’t you?”. I said “yes”, and it was settled, I’d be going with a group to Nwa at the end of the week.
Why were we going to Nwa? The Yamba people, who had had a translation in the 70’s, were dedicating their revised New Testament. The roads were promised to be bad, and the SIL helicopter was waiting for parts, so there would only be 1 missionary there besides myself, Ginny Bradley, the Transalation consultant. Abraham didn’t disappoint on his promised adventure.
Friday afternoon, I finished up class before lunch and went home to pack. Hours passed…and about 5pm, Abraham called me to say that it was time to go. I put on my pack, and hiked towards the seminary gate. Abraham met me, and we walked to the meeting point, an intersection within view of the center of town. Some others were already showing up…and the total count was 11 passengers. Abraham had arranged that a vehicle from the Nwa council was coming to pick us up. Soon, a red pickup arrived…and despite my time here, I was surprised to find that this would be the ride for ALL of us. We crammed in, 3 in the front seat (including me and the driver), 4 in the back seat of the cab, and the rest spread across the benches and open space of the 4-foot truck bed…and we were off.
(From here on out, times are estimated, I’ll try to go back and correct the times by looking at my photos.)
30 minutes from Ndu, one of the fan-belts shredded. Our driver, Ibraham, turned off the engine and went to retrieve the shrapnel. We only had about 3 hours of road ahead of us (if all else went well)…so we’d be fine without it, right? Asphalt turned to gravel, gravel turned to dust, dust turned into rocks…and we were getting further and further from large towns as our engine efficiently converted every drop of water in our radiator into steam. The driver, having delayed us leaving Ndu, was now impatient to get home, so he chose the shorter Rom road instead of the longer and better road. The Rom road, as they called it, looked more like a dry river-bed than a road, and we bumped up and over rocks and boulders at what seemed to be 20 feet-per-hour. Imagine going over rocks as big as suitcases, and what this must have been doing to the unlucky souls in the bed of the truck. Often, they would get out and hike up the trail in front of our headlights, easily making better time on foot.
We started on a cycle of stopping at the bottom of every hill to refill several water bottles from the nearest stream, and dumping those bottles into the radiator just after we topped the next ridge. One of those times, our only source was a trickly of water coming down the rockface. I had the idea to cut one of our empty water bottles in half and make a funnel. This funnel served us well. Nevertheless, about 10pm, the truck stalled out on an up-slope. We were then reminded that the fan belt served 2 purposes…running the fan, and running the generator that charges the battery. After so many stops and starts, the battery was dead. You know, it’s possible to start a manual vehicle by pushing…and everyone got out to push. Even with all that oomph, you try getting momentum pushing a truck up a narrow rocky road at night. We couldn’t turn around, so we tried starting the truck rolling backwards, a seemingly impossible task. Someone in town was called, and we would wait. By this time, it was quite cold and the wind was blowing up the valley, so most of the Cameroonians retreated into the cab of the truck, and some walked on to the next village. I was highly amused by the situation at this point, and so I grabbed a sweatshirt out of my truck and covered myself with the truck’s tarp. I put on my iPod, and within moments, I was snug as a bug in a rug, quite enjoying no longer being cramped in that cab. I don’t know how long I napped there after making some phone calls, but eventually the motorcycle arrived with a battery. A little while later, we were on our way again, promptly cresting the last ridge before the village of Mbem. It was here that the front axle started to move and wobble. We limped slowly down the mountain, still having to stop when the truck got thirsty, and picked up a few members of our group in the next small village. There were quite a few more push-starts of the vehicle.
At almost 11, we pulled up to the Baptist Health Center at Mbem, a room had been reserved for me just in case, and it was decided that I would use it. Just before crossing the bridge into the compound, the front of the truck kneeled, and would go no further. Abraham and a couple of others led me through the dark to the Field Pastor’s house, who eventually led me to my room/trailer, a place reserved for traveling teams, pastors, and missionaries. The next morning, as I rode with Ginny in her vehicle to the ceremony, I found the truck exactly where I had left it, and the driver promised it would be fixed soon. Only later did I find out that our wheelchair-bound companion had called a motorcycle that never arrived, and he ended up sleeping in the truck as the other guys walked the next 15 or 20 miles to Nwa.
End of Nwa: Part 1.