Friday, August 21, 2009

The Trip

Hello Everyone,

Before my time in Africa comes to an end next Tuesday I wanted to get out a quick update about our trip from Zambia to Burundi. Mom, Dad, Ger, and Dave, you might want to lay off reading this one or at least keep in mind that did make it safely...

We began our journey from Livingstone, Zambia on Wednesday the 29th by taking a bus up to Lusaka, the capital. The ride was a bit crowded but other than that we had little excitement to start the trip off. We arrived in Lusaka around 5:30AM, our first taste of the not-so-safe parts of Africa (bus stations are some of the seediest places I've been, and having grown up in Racine that is saying a bit...). All went well at the bus station and we were able to get to our room (a church mission) and take care of our business in Lusaka. I think the highlight of Lusaka was going back to the bus depot to book our tickets to Nakonde (Tanzanian border) and having to actually board the bus to talk about ticket prices (2 white guys and a bunch of Zambians, only one had a knife though...). We were able to get good prices though, and the next day we boarded Senior Africa's only bus to our next stop.

After an all-night bus ride, we arrived at Nakonde around 8A.M. to see a crowd of street kids surrounding the bus. That's when I knew it was time to start praying. The kids were very anxious to “help” people carry their luggage and book them on other buses. So anxious, in fact, that one of the Senior Africa guys had to swing an axe handle and spray them with water to get them to back off a bit. But this danger was only an opportunity for God to provide for us, and before we even got off the bus a woman came on who worked with a clearing agency and told us she would help us get through the border and onto our next bus. I honestly have no idea what we would have done if this woman had not shown up and I firmly believe she was nothing short of an answer to prayer. After only a little hassle we were able to get our bags free from the bus, rid ourselves of the crowd of street kids, and enter the Tanzanian immigration office. The great thing about Tanzania is that travel visas are usually free, unless of course you're from the U.S. in which case they cost $100, no matter what. It also turned out that the U.S. $100-bill I had was from a bad year (1996) and was therefore unacceptable in Tanzania. But God provided again through one of our teammates, who on our last night slipped us a brand new $100-bill. What are the odds of that? So finally we made it into Tanzania, and our friend from the clearing agency had found us a bus that would allow us to travel up the coast of Lake Tanganyika, rather than going all the way to Dar es Salam and back. Even better, we walked directly to the bus, changed our Zambian money (kwacha) on the way, boarded and left. All in all, about one our total in Nakonde/Mbeya (the Tanzanian side), and one hour was more than enough for me.

Our next stop on the way to Bujumbura would be Mpanda, where we believed the bus was taking us, so I was a bit surprised when we arrived in a town called Sumbawanga and found the bus to Mpanda was leaving the next day. After our experience at the border I was a bit nervous about spending the night, but my fears were quickly calmed. We found a taxi driver who knew enough English to get that we needed a hotel, and he brought us to a Catholic mission, where the two of us stayed in a great room and had an incredible dinner for $9. We spent the evening relaxing and exploring a bit of the city, and even made it to an ATM to end any money problems (or so we thought, but more on that later).

The next morning (Sunday) we grabbed some fruit for breakfast and headed out to Mpanda. After our enjoyable experience in Sumbawanga, my hopes were a bit higher for Mpanda, and I was not even surprised this time when we stepped off the bus and immediately had an English-speaker begin to help us find a way to Kigoma. We found a place to stay pretty easily, then headed to the train station to find out more information. Unfortunately, no trains were leaving for Kigoma until Tuesday, but there was the possibility of catching a ride with some UN trucks heading up. We grabbed dinner and decided to wait until Monday when things would be open to figure out the best way to proceed. As we were walking to the UNHCR office on Monday, a man named Samuel ran to catch up with us and ask if we needed any help. Samuel spoke great English and was a huge blessing to us for the next few days. We enjoyed hearing about his life, his struggles, and encouraging him; while he was able to find a ride for us (by car!) not just to Kigoma, but all the way into Mabanda, Burundi. I cannot thank God enough for putting him in our lives, and by this point I was sure God had a huge hand in our travels.

On Tuesday morning we made an attempt to draw a bit more cash to pay for Burundian visas ($20/person), but found the machine was only for those banking in Tanzania. So we figured we'd just keep going by prayer and headed out with our driver for what was without a doubt one of the craziest rides of my life. During AMT we took a 4x4 off road driving and recovery class, where they taught us the correct way to approach rocks and other obstacles while driving on rough roads. I can say without a doubt that our driver broke every rule we learned in that class and that I have a newfound respect for Suzuki 4x4's (although I attribute much of this journey's success to prayer as well because there is absolutely no way that little car should have made that drive). We arrived at the Tanzanian border around 6 that evening (just before closing), to find out that our driver didn't have a passport and also had a gun in his glove compartment. Not exactly ideal circumstances. But somehow he got one with his name on it (no idea), and being that he really was a good, honest guy, he turned his gun in at the border and we were able to cross into Burundi that very night! As you might have guessed, our driver was a pretty smooth talker. So smooth that we managed to get to Mabanda that night (not supposed to happen after dark because of Burundi's past) without visas (really not supposed to happen) because of the bad $100, and wait until we arrived in Bujumbura to buy them (really really not supposed to happen). He also set us up at a guest house for the night, where they agreed not to charge us for the room or the bus until we could arrive in Bujumbura and draw money out. We also bought a few cell phone minutes (using Tanzanian shillings) to call Danny (Overland staff working in Burundi right now), but all Dave got out was, “Danny we made it across the border but have no money” before the phone cut out, to which the only response was laughter.

The next day we took a minibus into Bujumbura, through mountains, which was fun because I learned that going down-hill means you should accelerate to gain extra speed. It's like hitting a mushroom in Mario kart. We arrived safely in Bujumbura with no problems at all, paid the bus driver, and finally met up with our team here in the city, all in just under one week (by a few hours). This was especially impressive because it took the last team of two guys three weeks to get here. Overall it was an incredible journey, and while I'm not in any hurry to do it again, I'm really thankful for the experience. Above all else, I must say that God is surely as faithful as anyone could possibly be, and I truly believe that He is dying to show this to us if only we will step out and give Him the chance.