Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Kombie

I re-post this today in memory of the Kombie, which has, since this was written, been laid to rest. The Kombie was originally posted in September 2010. 

The vehicle you see in the background of this picture is what we call the Kombie. (I know its hard to see past the beautiful children.)

The Kombie can be a blessing, and the Kombie can be a curse.

Before I continue this post, I would like to clarify for those of you who have seen "The Gods Must be Crazy", that the vehicle dilemas in the movie were no exaggeration. If you have not experienced a true African vehicle, you may assume the problems were for mere comic relief, but I assure you, they were created from real life knowledge.

The Kombie was a blessing because Tecla and I depended on it to get us from one place to the next; From one side of town to another, from one village to the next, and if we were feeling lucky, from one town to another (towns in that area can be fewer and farther between than villages). Dear Kombie has honorably taken many desperate people to the hospital, delivered countless bags of food, and has served as somewhat of a vehicle of hope.

The Kombie was also a curse because he was unpredictable and moody, and gave no regard to timely manner or dignity. More times than I can count I had to get out of the Kombie and push while Tecla started it. Of course this means that I would run along side the Kombie and (hopefully be able to) jump in the side door of the moving vehicle.

Then, of course, there is black market gasoline. In the Victoria Falls area, there have been no operational fueling stations for many years. This means the only way to buy gasoline is on the black market. We would carefully smell and touch the gasoline before it was poured into the Kombie through the saleman's creative funnel of choice. The other method, if no funnel is available, is a long rubber tube. The down-side of the rubber tube is that to start the flow, the salesman must suck the gasoline up to a certain point, often times using just a little too much suck resulting in a mouth full of gasoline.

The major problem with black market gasoline was that there was no assurance of the fuel's quality. As I mentioned, we would smell and feel the gas before it went into the vehicle, but black market salesmen are sneaky, and we ended up with watered down gas a time or two.

On top of possible serious damage to the vehicle, it can also mean the vehicle stopping, with no warning, without care of where in the world you are at. This was frustrating, and resulted in long walks through the dark of night until we were able to hitch a ride. (Hitch hiking is a completely appropriate and common mode of transportation in Africa, as much as that makes my father cringe :)

The most common problem the Kombie faced was over heating. We carried around old coke bottles full of water just for this purpose. Tecla and I spent many hours together "waiting it out".

Thankfully, when the Kombie broke down within a certain amount of miles (or kilometers) from town, we could find our way home by foot or by hitching.

Unfortunately, the Kombie was a rebel. Occassionally we would take trips to Hwange.

I am not sure how many kilometers it is from Hwange to Victoria Falls, but it is plenty. Plenty of kilometers to be left stranded. Kilometers of no man's land. Kilometers of lion and elephant and baboon territory.

On a certain trip to Hwange we set out early in the day to visit patients in the hospital and to deliver some mealie meal (corn flour).

It took several stops on the way there to refill the water and wait it out. Unfortunately at some point we ran out of water. We pulled to the side of the road, and because Tecla is a woman of resources, she pointed in a direction, we grabbed our empty bottles, and walked.

In a short amount of time we reached a small river outlet. Before we filled up our bottles we first chased away a dozen or so warthogs who we rudely interrupted. With the water refill successful, we then had to wait it out. As we waited for the Kombie to cool off we stood outside in the shade (the inside of the stilled vehicle was an unbearable heat). I won't go into the swarm of bugs that attacked us, but by the time we returned to the vehicle we looked as though we were wearing brightly colord burkas, and still had to fight the bugs from our eyes.

We reached Hwange in tact, we made our visits and delivered the food. As we started to head out of town a kind soul pointed out that one of our tires was nearly flat. We checked it out, and he was right. There was no way we'd make it home in that condition. By this time it was nearing sunset, and we stopped at what was once a fueling station, loitered by several men looking for any kind of little job to earn a meal. One man left and returned moments later proudly waving duct- tape and a bicycle pump.

You may have your doubts, but an hour and several thousand pumps later, we were back on the road.

The ride home was one of my most memorable times with Tecla.

We laughed about what the day brought. We prayed earnestly that we would make it home without any more Kombie issues (by this time it was the dead of night). We sang worship songs to our hearts content. She taught me some Shona and Ndebele. We drove with the windows down and the cooled night air blowing in until the screeching sounds of the insects outside became too much to handle (really, its so loud it hurts). And we decided that it was all worth it.

It has been years since the Kombie and I have met, but I am sure more adventures are in our future. Don't tell him this, but I love adventure ;)

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