One of the questions we are most often asked is how far are we from Mbale. The standard answer that I give is two to six hours, depending on the condition of the road. Saturday, we set a new personal record. We left Mbale around 10am and I did not step into our home until 9pm. And we were fortunate; Pastor Al slept in his vehicle and didn’t return until Sunday afternoon.
We left Karamoja Tuesday morning. Weather had been hot and dry for several weeks and the road, though rough, was completely dry the whole way. We were en route to pick up The Knoxes—our doctor and his wife—with their new child. We picked them up from the airport late Thursday night and began the journey back up on Friday, reaching Mbale mid-afternoon. We were greeted with the news that it had been raining heavily in Nakaale several nights in a row. Friday night, it rained all night, and we decided it was wise to caravan with Al back to Karamoja.
All was fine until we reached what has become the infamous bad place of this season, Okudud. It is a low-lying area that, in heavy rains, becomes basically a swamp. When we finally had to stop, there was a line of heavy trucks (known here as lorries) waiting to go through one particularly treacherous place. One truck had become stuck in a hole (I do mean a hole, standing on the crest of the road, it was possible to see over the top of the truck) and another was slowly trying to pass it on the other side.
Drive. Get stuck. Dig. Repeat.
While all this was happening, smaller vehicles were passing to the right of this truck. One had to be dug out once, another was dug several times and ultimately pulled out by Al. Finally, the large truck trying to pass blocked the right side of the road as well, and the decision was made to attempt going off the road and around the blockage by way of the swamp.
This turned out to be a fateful decision. Al’s car became stuck up to the frame and our vehicle couldn’t get enough traction to pull him. We called for help from Nakaale and decided to send our vehicle on ahead. By this time, the two infants had been in the vehicle for a good five hours (plus six the day before) so we thought it best to try and get them home. Jim drove our vehicle out of the swamp and back onto the road beyond the first blockage, only to find another nearly impassible group of stuck lorries ahead. Our help arrived as it was beginning to rain. He pulled Jim out and put the women and children on their way home. We tried to jack Al’s vehicle up and dig it out as the storm broke over our heads, but eventually we had to grease the palm of a tractor driver who managed to pull Al through the swamp and back onto the road. The bad news was that the lorries now behind us were impassible and the lorries ahead had reconfigured and were stuck side-by-side on a bridge that traverses a small river. We could not go back and we could not go forward until someone else moved out of the way.
By this time, it was coming to seven o’clock and getting dark, so we began ferrying everything perishable or valuable a kilometer through the mud and darkness to the vehicle that had come from Nakaale which was parked on the other side of the mess. At the end of the third trip, Al went back to spend the night with Jesse in the stranded vehicle and Jim and I drove back to the mission. It poured rain for much of the night, and it was several hours of daylight before Al’s vehicle was able to move, but they eventually reached, as Al said—tired and stiff and happy in the Lord.