I Fell into a Ditch in Uganda. Then the Incredible Happened.
Three weeks ago it was a pitch-black night. The sort of darkness that results when the small sliver of the moon is covered by clouds and the lack of electricity prevents any escape. It had just rained for hours, turning the dirt roads outside Gulu, Uganda into semi-functional creeks and mud pits. The tires of my motorcycle slipped back and forth, but stayed in motion.
Until… the bike died.
I was going downhill when the motor cut, and the meager headlamp faded with it. I was thirty kilometers outside of town, somewhere between two of the smaller villages in the area. Thirty kilometers from most familiar connections, and from the source of all apparent solutions to my problems.
I was alone, and suddenly stranded. My decision to attend a joyous (but delayed) wedding in Awach that day suddenly seemed like a horrible choice. By all definitions, I was in the type of vulnerable position that travel guides tell you to avoid at all costs. A moment of panic ensued. But I had no choice but to try and move forward. Rather than spiraling into thoughts of the hypothetical threats, I focused on trusting people – and myself – and received the best experience in return.
By all definitions, I was in the type of vulnerable position that travel guides tell you to avoid at all costs.
Within thirty minutes of stalling, I had seven people assisting me. Other motorcycle drivers fiddling with the engine, passersby offering the light from their cell phones, kids providing the entertainment. Eventually, in a frantic wave of activity, the bike started again. I pulled the acceleration high to keep it running while strangers buckled my helmet under my chin, patted my head, and lighted the way out of the ditch I had settled in.
When I reached the next village I happened upon even more assistance and attention. A crowd of what sounded like thirty people surrounded me, though I could only see three feet in front of me at any given time. Over the course of the next hour there was more engine fiddling, a hunt for fuel, and a decision made to bring a new friend named Patrick along for the remainder of the journey. Better to be potentially stranded with someone than alone, I thought.
Progressing along, we came upon two cars. One stalled. Considering my experience just moments before, we couldn’t pass them up. And as serendipity would have it, the cars were full of the wedding party. Hilarity ensued. Bridesmaids held their dresses up above the mud, their high heels sinking in. The nephews of the bride tinkered under the hood. By the time we were moving again, fuel had been siphoned from the bike and donated to the car. The photographer joined Patrick and me on the bike, freeing up some space in the crammed cars full of new friends.
When we reached town, I was covered in mud but had utter clarity of thought. Endorphins were flowing through me and an overflowing appreciation for the simple fact that I existed could not be avoided. My body barely contained me.
In the chaos that has ensued alongside the realization that my departure from Uganda is fast approaching, the day stood out as a testament to everything that I love in this country, and to the kind of experiences that keep you rooted in a place, no matter where you go.
Endorphins were flowing through me and an overflowing appreciation for the simple fact that I existed could not be avoided.
Recently, during a weekend on the whitewater with Kayak the Nile, a guide revealed a key lesson to me. The trick to managing your kayak in rapids is quite counterintuitive: lean towards the whitewater.
In the moment on the side of the road, and in so many others over the last six weeks, I reveled in this lesson both on and off water. The number of activities in each day and thoughts running through my mind are impossible to contain. I’ve struggled to write or reflect in any form or fashion. A coherent description is insurmountable.
But I just keep leaning into the chaos. I’m riding a huge wave. It may crash to shore sometime in January with the return home, and it may hurt. But by leaning in, I’m giving myself the best chance to keep my head above water.