In Malawi You Are Never Far From Help:
The morning of Monday, October 4th started off cool and clear as it does on most days in the dry season in Malawi. The Embangweni well installation team of Jim Kraatz, myself, Dalless Kamanga and Maria Moyo, were joined on this day by Carroll Loomis, retired medical missionary, and his daughter Sara Mack, who wanted to see the Shallow Well Program up close. After loading up our supplies from the Embangweni hospital stores and getting our marching orders from Field Officer, Fiscani Chirwa, we drove south to Jenda where we picked up two local well builders who knew the exact well sites. We continued east of Jenda to install and dedicate four closely situated wells. This was accomplished by 11:00 am and we were on our way back to Embangweni thinking this would be a short day for us.
About three miles from Jenda we somehow missed noticing one of the multitude of stumps you find in the Malawian roads and ran over it. Pop! Pop! Both tires on the left side of the truck were flat as pancakes after being punctured on the thin inner surface. After surveying the damage, we decided to put our one spare tire on the most damaged tire in the rear and take the front tire to Jenda to be booted and a tube inserted.
I volunteered to make the walk into town with Dalless, Maria, and Vasco Chirwa, one of the well builders. Jim, Carroll, Sara, and the other well builder stayed with the truck. The traveling group started out rolling the tire down the red, dusty road to Jenda. Soon Vasco had a better idea and gathered some local vegetation for a cushion and started carrying that heavy truck tire on his head. Soon Dalless took over from Vasco and then Maria had her turn. Maria hardly ever walks, and she ran down the road with the tire on her head with the rest of us trying to keep up. All of these Malawians are not more than 5’2″ tall and weigh less than 110 lb. I asked to take my turn but was turned down. In this fashion we made the 3 miles to Jenda in less than an hour. There we found a repair shop and they got right on our job at an estimated cost of $20, most of that for the tube. While they were fixing the tire, we had lunch of cokes and biscuits and watched the traffic go by on the tarmac (the main highway that goes through Jenda). The tire was fixed shortly after lunch and we pondered how to get it back to the truck without carrying it again. Vasco came to our rescue and hired a friend with a cart to haul it back for $5.
Back at the truck, our crew had been taken care of by women from a near-by village. They brought them a traditional lunch of nsima (cornmeal cakes)and sauce. We soon had the repaired tire on the front and Jim gingerly drove through Jenda back to Embangweni. About 1 mile from our destination, the repaired tire gave out, so we stopped. We also found out the spare on the back was coming off with loose lug nuts. Jim and Dalless stayed with the truck and the rest of us hopped on a pick up headed for Embangweni. There I found a shallow wells truck with a spare and drove that back to where Jim and Dalless were waiting. We put the spare on the front of the injured truck and tightened the lug nuts. Finally we arrived at the guest house much later in the day than we had anticipated. What a Day!!
The mechanic at the hospital was able to repair our truck and get us a good spare tire for well installations on Wednesday, October 6th. The Embangweni crew loaded up our repaired truck with well supplies and headed south to Jenda with me at the wheel. About 1 ½ miles from Jenda, the back of the truck dropped and started skidding in the red dirt road. Jim called our attention to our back left wheel rolling down the road ahead of us. We came to a sudden halt and got out to survey the damage. This time the lug nuts were all missing as well as the brake drum. Maria and Dalless walked down the road and retrieved our errant tire. Soon two people approached and gave us 5 lug nuts they had picked up on the road. We couldn’t find the brake drum, so put the tire back on and turned around for the trip back to Embangweni. Then Dalless found the brake drum and we decided (possibly not wisely) to take the tire off and get the brake drum back where it belonged. In doing this we broke off 2 lug screws and froze the rest.
For help we decided to again walk to Jenda. Dalless and I made the trip and were able to hire a pick up for $25 to take us the 15 miles back to Embangweni. I didn’t realize at the time the driver would also make some money hauling people along the way, adding extra time to our trip. By the time they had pushed the truck to get it started, four people had hopped on for the ride. Maria volunteered to stay with our truck so Jim and I road in the front of the rented pick up with the driver for the trip back to Embangweni. Along the way we stopped at various places to talk with friends of the driver, while people hopped on and off in true Malawian fashion. Back at the guest house we found the mechanic at the hospital motor pool and he and Jim eventually rescued Maria and fixed the truck with parts Jim McGill brought from Mzuzu.
In reflecting on these episodes later, both Jim and I never felt isolated or alone. We had Malawian friends to help us and, though it took a little time, we always made it home safe and sound. No doubt these tire incidents will go down in the collected lore of the Marion Medical Mission and will be used to train future volunteers for mission work in Malawi. Always look out for stumps and remember to tighten your lug nuts.