May 3, 2005
On Wednesday, three visitors from Pittsburgh Presbytery arrived, and we greeted them at the airport. They were very gracious about dining in the dark, taking cold showers and eating meals that were cooked over one small charcoal stove outside.
On Thursday I took one of them up to Blantyre Synod’s Camp and Conference Center at Likhubula. Marta was enchanted by the beauty of the spot. We ate a picnic lunch of peanut butter and banana sandwiches beside the clear, cool stream, and watched the flowing water tumble over rocks and pause in deep pools. On the way to Mulanje Mission Hospital, she snapped pictures of tea pickers at work in the fields and the imposing mountain.
Dr. Roland Van de Ven, the new Medical Director, gave us a really wonderful tour of the Hospital, including the new “Kangaroo Care” unit (which I will write about at a future date).
We headed home at 4:00 p.m. because it is not good to drive in Malawi after dark. By 4:30 p.m. we were in Thyolo, driving up a small hill behind a large flatbed truck laden with 50 kilo sacks of maize. The truck kept going slower and slower as we went up the incline. Finally it stopped. I stopped several yards behind it. Then it started rolling backwards. I took my car out of gear, let go of the brake and let my car roll backwards as I tried to get it into reverse and laid on the horn. I said to Marta, “He is going to hit us.” Unfortunately, I never did get into reverse gear.
The truck quickly gathered momentum and crunched the front end of my car (truck). The grill was smashed, the hood buckled, and both headlights were broken. There was, of course, no damage to the maize truck. We all got out of the vehicles. I have to admit that I was furious and yelled at the other driver. “What were you doing? Didn’t you see me? Why didn’t you stop?” He probably did not understand a word I said. I put on my flashers and placed my emergency triangles on the road to warn other motorists about our stopped vehicles. A minivan ran over one of them a few minutes later.
After a few minutes a motorist stopped and asked if we needed help. I asked him if he would notify the police (I had my cell phone, but did not know the number – besides it had very little charge left in it, because we had no power at home to recharge it). He assured us that he would, but half an hour later, no police had arrived at the scene. There was, however, a large crowd of onlookers of local men, women and children, as well as the town drunk.
Marta and I just waited on the side of the road, and she took a few pictures. Finally, almost an hour after the accident, the police arrived. Their station was less than a mile away. They did not say a word to us, but started taking measurements and drawing pictures of the position of the vehicles. Finally one of them said, “who was driving the car?”
After about a half hour, they told us we had to come back to the police station. I was not even sure my car was drivable because the radiator looked tilted. But since I did not see any fluids leaking from underneath, I decided to try. I went up the road to a nearby bakery and turned my vehicle around in a huge mud puddle. Then the two police officers got in (they had no transport – the car that dropped them off at the accident had gone somewhere else). We drove to the police station.
By this time it was getting dark, but the police station had no power so the officers filled out forms and took our statements using cell phone lights as flashlights. Their English skills were minimal and we had a hard time making them understand that both vehicles were stopped and that the truck hit me. This was partially because the driver of the truck told them that I was taking pictures, tailgating and had run into him. One of his passengers backed up this story, and then told me that he was a CCAP member. I said, “Then you should not lie.” They took both of our driver’s licenses and told us to come back the next day with insurance papers. (These are kept on file at the Synod Office and Trucking Company office.)
This whole process took about two hours, so by the time we were finally told that we could leave, it was pitch black outside. So much for not driving in the dark! The car seemed to be running fine, so I decided to drive back to Blantyre. Fortunately there were two cars on the road in front of me, and we formed an impromptu caravan back to the city. Marta said a prayer as we drove, thanking the Lord that it had not been worse.
The Lord was really watching out for us, because I did not have to worry about picking the girls up at school or anything that evening. There was a school play that night and they were visiting friends and then going to the play. Dan was away at a big Synod conference. When we got home, I picked up the girls and tried to call Dan, but he had his phone turned off to conserve its battery. I left a message and he called me and came home first thing in the morning.
We spent all day Thursday at the Nissan dealer, the Thyolo police station (getting my driver’s license back, and explaining all over to new officers what really happened), and the insurance company. Everything takes so long here in Malawi! We were exhausted by day’s end, but we think that we should have the car back by Saturday for our next round of guests from America. In the meantime we will be driving Sue Makin’s little red car while she is in the States. The Lord provides.
I only cried twice during the whole ordeal – when I got in bed on Wednesday night and began re-visualizing the whole accident, and when Dan got home and gave me a big hug.