The truck began to fish tail, slowly creeping towards the gravel ditch running parallel to the road. It was no longer raining but the waters were now steadily flowing down from the surrounding mountains, carving out deep grooves into the dirt path ahead. The water was murky from the debris and orange clay, which was being stirred up by the rushing water.
The woman slowly stepped over the ditch with one foot and learned closely against the hill side to avoid the vehicle. Balancing the heavy bundle of sticks on her head, digging her walking stick into the mud, she was able to prevent herself from slipping. The children quickly scurried off of the mud-slick road, knowing very well that there is no predicting a truck’s path in these conditions.
The driver calmly shifted gears in the bouncing truck just before rolling up his window in preparation for the large pool of water ahead. The truck was just picked up from the washing bay earlier that morning. Now the white truck was layered with orange clay and collecting splatters of black mud across the front window pane.
We were determined to arrive in Mtufu. The village agents were expecting us within the hour, but the collection of mud stuck vehicles on the more popular road lead us to a detour. A local village woman guided us on a rural path where the homes were so close to the dirt road that it felt like we were driving through their front yard. I glanced back to the village woman to find that she too was holding the hand-bar, fist tightly clenched.
Our heads bobbed side to side as we struck the pot holes and bumped around from one tire path grooves to the other. It was as if we were in a bobsled, sliding on the ice track, with only the walled embankments forcing us to continue straight on the path. Motorcyclist were driving with both feet down, shifting their gum boots through the mud as if they were training wheels for a child’s new bike. Everyone was in the thick of it… The thick of the Ugandan rainy season.
On our return from the training at Mtufu, we followed the same path that the woman had showed us. Only this time, the small streams of rain water flowing along side the path began to saturate the open road. The truck fish-tailed again and the driver continued to calmly shift between 4H and 4L.
Just as we began to slide up the small incline, the mud slowly sunk beneath us. The front tires slipped into the small water carved ditch as the rear wheels lost all traction in the thick, thick mud. The heavy truck bottomed out, we were finally stuck.
Luckily, the entire village arrived to help, and, to watch the excitement. After a quick attempt to push the truck free with the help of some locals, the driver decided to use a little strategy. The village men brought a large heavy log from around the row of brick ducas. They dug out a space with hoes to prop up the jack.
Now out of the truck, I began to greet the kids who screamed “muzungu” from across the path. The children gathered around as I shared pictures; and we laughed at the silly faces made during our impromptu photo shoot. The men continued working to free the truck with a combination of ropes, props and brut strength.
After being set free, the driver reversed 15 meters below the slue of mush to prepare for the 2nd attempt. More than 30 villagers quickly moved away from the mud path, knowing that the truck could easily lose control at any point. The truck was just a few yards past the very place where it was stuck when the tires began to lose traction. The men hurriedly ran to the back side to push, while three brave men grabbed the tow ropes and ran in front of the massive truck. They pulled and pushed the truck until the wheels gripped the bits of thick debris and rock on the center path.
My muscles clenched and eyes began to close as I prepared to witness a man get pummeled by the truck. The men were far to experienced with this endeavor. Surely, their nimble bare feet gripped the clay road as they sprang away from the moving truck in perfect timing.
The villagers laughed to see my muzungu self try to manage the road by foot. Unable to risk stopping in the sinking mud, the driver continued ahead around the bend. Myself with the support of 25 villagers began to walk, following the tire trail left ahead. The ground was impossible to traverse, let alone stand on. After just a few steps, the locals knew it would be a matter of seconds before I fell straight into the mud. A man gave me his arm, which I happily grabbed to prevent a full back hand flip.
My thick sandals were like two large suction cups, being pulled back into the earth. The school children in the baby blue matching uniforms took a audible gasp when I stepped bare foot into the mud. Since my new friends knew to walk shoes in hand, feet in the mud, I decided to follow suit. After the gasp came giggles. My guess is that they were shocked to see a muzungu woman walking bare foot through their very own village.
On my fifth near split in the relentless mud, my new walking assistant threw my arm around his neck, better balanced with me close to his side. The crowd burst into a fit of laughter. Their neighbor was now walking bare foot through the mud with a muzungu woman hanging from his side…. This would definitely be one for the front page, only if they had a newspaper.
The driver was waiting just past the road’s fork with the dozen men that helped free his vehicle. They too broke into laughter when they saw their friend with the muzungu strung around his neck. He proudly smiled and rambled a few things in Lugisu; maybe a joke about having a new muzungu wife, I’d imagine. I was just happy to arrive at the truck with mud only in my feet.
Once my escort received his share of shillings for the good work, we all exchanged a few fare-wells and continued our journey home. The village rescuers and onlookers footed back towards the sinking mud. The driver continued towards Sironko main road. The African sky began to display it’s beautiful array of gold colors behind the blue shadows of Mount Elgon.
The wheels soon firmly gripped the pavement as we traveled back towards Mbale. With the mud drying to a soft crust between my toes, and the breathtaking views of East Africa all around me, I could not help but think that there is no place that I would rather be.