The Day Stumpthing Bad Almost Happened

2009 August 9

Motorcycle journeys here rarely occur without some form of excitement - either danger or challenge or mechanical problem or animal nuisance. Today's journey was no exception. This is Sabbath morning, and the sun is burning the morning clouds away. The air is refreshingly cool at the moment, but promises to warm considerably throughout the day. I sketch a few notes of last-minute inspiration on my sermon talk while waiting for my passengers to arrive. Earlier in the week, two of my workers asked to come to church with us at Dabgue this week. Knowing the road conditions, I hesitated on telling them both that they could come, but I also knew that this was an opportunity to share more encouragement and truth with them. Yesterday, I told them both that they could come. The younger guy arrives with a brand new New Testament in French, a book I don't believe he has ever owned before. The older worker helped him get it, I think. The older one is partially crippled and has some balance issues, making him a more difficult passenger to carry on the moto. We three guys pile onto the moto with our three Bibles strapped to the rack and we head south toward the village of Dabgue. Jeremy and Annie follow close behind. The main road to Dabgue is a fascinating obstacle course, especially on Sabbath morning. Sabbath is market day in Bere, the village north of here, and hundreds of people from other villages stream northward bearing their burdens to sell at the market. Many walk carrying huge loads of wood or pots of food on their heads, while others carry huge 50kilo sacks of grain on their bicycles. A few ride donkeys or horses. An occasional motorcycle appears, typically driven by Arabs with tunics. During the rainy season large, green, slimy puddles often stretch across the entire path, which is 20' wide or more in places. And the sand, though not as bad as in the dry season, offers frequent opportunities for bogging down. "Bogging down" occurs in various degrees. If the sand is not to deep, the front wheel may skid slightly back and forth, upsetting balance. If the sand is medium depth, the sand offers a great resistance to forward motion and the driver may find himself battling with balance to stay in control of the moto. Deep sand is bad news. If you hit that, you will slow down very rapidly. If you're lucky, the moto will still be upright; if not, well, you were just unlucky and you hope nothing critical broke. Typically, the sand is medium deep across the road except for a path about a foot wide right at the edge of the road. Bicycles and motos like this little path because it considerably eases forward progression. During rainy season, crops and bushes grow right up to the edge of the road, creating an effective wall preventing one from seeing around a corner. Out of one house a little dog usually explodes in a frantic attempt to grab a snack off my heel or ankle. So far he has been unsuccessful, and I hope it will stay that way.

Well this day, I was traveling along the far right side of the road, where that little path was with the shallow sand. Traffic was unusually heavy today, and I maintained an alert lookout for hazards. This little strip of road is prized, and traffic in opposing directions often plays chicken rather than chance disaster in the field to one side or in the sand in the road on the other side. There are no traffic rules here, at least none that people follow. "He who is boldest and bravest and who has the loudest horn, wins" on this road. Today, with an extra-difficult passenger, I am traveling slower than usual. Ahead I see a line of bicycles and predict that we will arrive at the puddle approximately the same time. I slow down, and let them use the few inches of shallow water at the puddle's edge. A donkey yields to me and walks in the sand while I pass on my prized strip of road. Now, small shrubs and stumps jut out of the edge of the road, leaning out as if eagerly awaiting to smash some poor set of toes on the end of my foot. And then in front of me was a bicycle. Predicting which direction each person is going to go is quite difficult, as the concept of "right of way" has not found its way too these parts yet. It's about 50/50 - some turn left, and others turn right. Usually, I can observe a slight change in their steering in time to adjust my trajectory so that we pass with at least a few inches to spare. But this man didn't budge either way. Nor did I. To my left, was plenty of sandy road that neither of us wanted to enter. To my right was a field, and between me and the field were these stumps and bushes. I observed a slight turn in the bicycle to my left, and I turned slightly to the right. But something short-circuited somewhere and he changed his mind at the last moment and turned to my right. It was too late. I had already started leaning to my right, and with the weight of three people on the moto, there was not time to lean the other way. Before my eyes I envisioned the impending collision, one where large moto reduces small bicycle into one crumpled lump of scrap. The man, with a concerned look on his face, veers into the field, right into my predicted trajectory. I apply the brakes, but realize that this action will alone will be insufficient to prevent a collision. Then it occurred. My moto abruptly stopped, but not quite as slowly as my two passengers. Their weight pushed me forward for a close-up view of what was beyond my handlebars. The view I see is one of my front tire quite a small distance from a bicycle tire. The concerned look on the bicycle man's face has not left yet, as he gets up and dusts the sand away and uprights his bicycle. We three are still on the moto, in an upright situation. Having not yet determined the cause of my prompt halt, I look around to discover a small stump lodged securely against the bike motor between the tires. The older man's foot was down there in the leaves and dirt and I was worried about it being crushed. I was relieved as he pulled his foot out and said "It's OK, it's OK." Everybody was OK, and both transportation vehicles were reusable. After un-stumping my moto, the only damage I discovered was a slightly bent brake pedal. Thereafter, we each continued our journey. The bicycle man never said much. He just picked up his bike and continued toward market. And we continued toward Dabgue where we conducted Sabbath School and Church for the people there. I am thankful to God for that stump. Often I'm concerned about stubbing my toes on the stumps as I drive by, but today I am thankful for that stump. I was traveling less than 20mph at the time, but that's still fast enough to receive injuries or to damage a bicycle or a moto. And I am thankful for the angels that He sends to watch over and protect us. If He had allowed that story to progress without a stump, that would have been OK because He would have brought something good out of it. But this time, He graciously got me stumped, and I'm glad.

Jonathan