Traveling Africa Style
Transportation in Africa is certainly different from travel in the States! Traveling in Africa is a new experience for me that is providing great excitement for this trip! The rules of driving are pretty much thrown out the window here in Africa, and it’s an "everyone for himself!" driving mentality. The roads have moving obstacles all over them! There are people driving this way and that, motorcycles are everywhere, bicycles, wheel barrows, hundreds of taxis, people walking on and across the road, and the animals... So far we have seen goats, sheep, cows, monkeys, dogs, and vultures crossing right in front of our car. I spoke with a few African missionaries and they mentioned that if you take your time driving here you'll be on the road forever. You have to be aggressive and defensive at the same time. Enter a traffic circle and you might have the right of way. Good luck when you're trying to leave the traffic circle!
And then there's the road itself. Sections of it could be deemed, "mostly paved," but it winds this way and that through mountain passes that have no guard rails. And then there are the gaping holes in the road. Some are filled, some are not. Some are filled with pavement and some are just filled with dirt that may or may not be the right amount. I'm glad that Bob's in charge of our transportation. He's lived here and knows how to navigate the roads without running into the stuff that's almost constantly in the way. He'll accelerate to 100 km/hr and then have to stop suddenly because of a gaping hole, a truck trying to make it up the mountain, or various things in the road. We run the chance of having our journey take days when we take it slowly, and we're told that we don't want to be on the roads after dark. All of the same obstacles are there, but many of the vehicles (and people, and cows, and sheep, and goats…) have no lights, and there may be others out at night who wish to do us harm.
Turning off of the main roads is like turning onto an Athens hiking path through the woods. There may be a few cars traveling those roads each week, but they're rare. Most of the traffic on these roads is foot, bicycle, or motorcycle traffic and the roads are beaten down in the jungle accordingly. When there is no pavement (no matter how complete it may be) the road is made out of beaten-down dirt. The grooves in the road can run pretty deep in these sections. Driving on them is like riding on a wooden roller coaster.
You get a full work out when you're riding in any car that is traveling on these roads! You know those handles that are on the roof on the sides of the passenger seats? I’m sure that we’re going to pull them out by time we’re done with this trip! We’re grabbing for them all the time! Even if we do have a firm grip we’re still bumping into each other like we’re playing in a NHL playoff game.
We had a flat tire today. We pulled into a gas station for a fill-up and we were told that we had a flat tire. Okay, we have a flat, now what? We don’t dare drive these roads without having a full-size functional spare. We’re in Mamou, a town of about… not a lot of people! In fact, go to Google maps and check it out for yourself. What are there like 12 side streets that sneak around the main road on the way to Kouroussa? In fact, when you Google help for tire repair all you get is: “Your search for tire repair, near Mamou, Guinea did not match any locations.” Yeah, you think? These towns don’t have street signs on the roads let alone shop signs for businesses! This is a “wander around and ask if anyone knows someone who can help” kind of a culture.
So, what do you do to get your tire repaired? Well, there was a Guinean at the gas station who happened to know of someone who could help. They jumped in like a NASCAR pit crew: working hard to get the jack up and the tire off before taking it around the corner. Bob followed with a quick warning to, “watch the car” as he too disappeared around the corner. Rachel and Dian sought shade as Dan and I stayed close to the car. Other locals gathered around the “white guys” standing next to the nice SUV and tried to talk to us. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a chance for us to communicate! They didn’t know how to speak English and we couldn’t come close to speaking French.
This was one of a few lessons in seeing how important learning the language and culture is to being able to speak into the lives of another culture. How can we even begin to get to know people, or be able to speak into their lives, if we can’t even speak to them? Dan and I were talking about how arrogant it is for us not to know another language. This concept really started to sink in for me. We expect people coming to America to learn our culture and learn our language. I remember having conversations with many people who think that Spanish-speaking people coming to America as their new home need to learn how to speak English and integrate into our culture, yet we don’t look at the need to do that when we go other places. How many times have you seen the “blatant American flaunting his/her Americanness” in a movie? It’s almost like it’s expected. Yet this does very little to bridge the barriers between us - it separates us. This does little to allow us to speak into people’s lives – it prohibits it.
I know that the Alliance gets this. They know that we have to learn the language and culture BEFORE we’re able to have effective ministry as missionaries. We can ask for help fixing a tire by pointing and grunting, but there is no way we can effectively communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ by pointing and grunting. We need to invest in knowing the language and culture to reach the lost for Christ and make disciples who make disciples.
Back to the streets! We have a lot of work to do!
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.