Sunday, January 17, 2010

Near Disasters

This weekend my mind wandered to the near disasters I’ve experienced in the last two years in Uganda. I can only be thankful that they were near and not actual disasters. In each case, it took some time for me to realize how bad the results could have been. So often we live on a knife’s edge between safety and danger, life and death. Thanks to God for every moment of life we enjoy!

The first near disaster I want to recount happened late at night, when Amber and I and two Ugandan friends were driving north to Karamoja from south Uganda. The road we have to take through the district of Amuria has a particularly nasty stretch containing several low spots that turn into massive mud-holes in the rainy season. This night, one or two trucks were stuck, blocking the way enough to prevent other trucks from passing. As a result, a long line of trucks (10 or more) were backed up in single file, their drivers sleeping as they waited for dawn. Our Nissan SUV was agile enough to get around the trucks stuck in the mud, but then we were blocked by the line of parked trucks. This was because the road was narrow, especially over several narrow land bridges. I started to edge around one of the trucks in the front when one of my passengers yelled in alarm for me to stop. Stop I did, and good thing because we were only inches from rolling into a swamp. Inches.

Last fall I wanted to help a Karamojong friend earn some money for driving & mechanics school. I loaned him some solar equipment—solar panel, battery, and inverter—so he could start a cell-phone charging business. We worked up a plan for him to save for tuition and pay off the equipment in about three months. At the end of the three months, however, he had only saved a few dollars and was in trouble with the police. Since we were leaving the next day, I decided to confiscate the equipment from his house. He wasn’t there, but his friends were. I felt a little cruel being the mean lender, but I also knew that if I left the equipment, I’d probably never get it back. I stepped in the mud hut and started to disconnect the wires which were thoroughly tangled. Without thinking, I disconnected the battery from the inverter and just let the wires fall. The positive and negative ends fell together, exploding in a loud, angry pop with sparks as the battery was shorted. Fortunately, the wires fell further apart. Otherwise, the shorted battery could have exploded, and who knows how we would’ve been injured. Phew.

After a year and a half with no tire punctures, we started to get one after another. Just before coming back to the US in November, I had to change another tire at our office in Entebbe. I’ve changed quite a few tires in my life, but the spookiest thing kept happening to me this fall. I kept forgetting to tighten the nuts after I let the truck back down off the jack. That happened at least three times. This time, again without thinking, I jacked up the truck, ignoring the fact that we were on a slight slope in the parking lot. The wheel was about an inch or two off the ground when the truck just rolled right off the jack. Fortunately, I hadn’t removed the wheel yet. But stupid me, I moved the jack to another place under the truck and did the same thing again! This time, I had already removed the wheel when the truck started to roll of the jack. Our night-guard was watching me, and I quickly called for his help. We grabbed the truck and steadied it while I put the wheel back on the bolts. Let these stories be a warning against absentmindedness!

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