Kent Bell, 2009 Volunteer

Kent Bell, 2009 Volunteer

I had my first experience driving the Toyota truck on the left side of the road on the tarmac. It takes a lot of concentration at first, but after a while you get the hang of it. However, there are other driving skills in 4-wheel drive, i.e., in sandy, wet, or rough areas, that need to be mastered.

One of the things you need to remember once you have successfully navigated off-road around all of the cliff boulders and bottomless pits, and have avoided the sharp macheted tree stumps hiding under new leaf growth in your truck path, is to exit the rough terrain in the wheel tracks you made while going in. That way, you are less likely to puncture a tire and more likely to get out with no trouble.
That is, of course, unless you entered the area over a pond with six inches of scum on top…those Toyota trucks will go just about anywhere, but they aren’t amphibious.

Yep, I followed the wheel ruts I made going in on my way out, and buried the truck in the muck. It took the villagers 3 hours to dig us out by laying in that muck, and hand shoveling it from under both differentials. This allowed enough clearance under the truck so that “gunning” the truck in reverse and riding the planks placed under the wheels by the villagers finally got us out of there.

They are wonderful people, who ask for nothing in return, but we asked the village chief if it would be appropriate to provide a reward to the men that spent so much of their time under our truck. He suggested a few kwacha for soap, which we happily provided with a few other small gifts, e.g, plastic flutes that we distribute to children at the well sites.

Truck stuck in the mud!

Truck stuck in the mud!

While at this new off road experience, another experience that Africa has to offer cropped up. ANTS ! The little devils were all over the area around the stuck truck, and kept crawling up inside our pant legs. You could roll up your pant legs, and usually brush them off without any serious damage. Except this one, much bigger than the rest, made it to my right wrist and was drawing blood. I pulled him off and sent him on his way. My first African wound !

Yes, there was a second that was a bit more damaging that occurred at another well site. I hardly noticed brushing against a bush when I was picking up some of our equipment while getting ready to trek back to the truck. A little way up the trail I looked down and saw blood was trickling down my right arm in three streams. Wow! I didn’t feel a thing! Turns out that there are bushes with surgically-sharp needles that you need to avoid.

Upon inspection, I could see three small puncture wounds in my arm, but since I didn’t have the first aid kit in my backpack, I decided to let the blood drip from my arm with the expectation that it would clean the wounds out and hopefully clot enough to stop the bleeding. The bleeding stopped by the time I got back to the truck, so I just let the blood dry on my arm so I could make a “sympathy photo’ of My second African wound!

I wonder what other experiences await me on the road ahead !! I just can’t wait to get on the road again ?????

“The Hilton!”

Room at Euthini guest house

Room at Euthini guest house

The first or second night on the road, as I recall, we went to stay at the Euthini “Hilton”. Ah, another new experience!

This place is one that all volunteers should experience! Pictures I took down the hall corridor document the cellblock appearance. The security on the rickety doors is an old- fashioned skeleton key lock that is a bit loose in it’s mounting. That made it difficult to get the key in just the right place so that the bolt would retract. I fiddled around with it for about a minute before I could get the door open. Well, almost open.

It seems that the wood plank single sized bed on the left side of the room prevents the door from swinging wide open. I almost couldn’t get my action pack in the room. The window had a half drape hanging on one side, and there was no screen to prevent mosquitoes from coming in.

There is no electrical power, no food service, no water, or toilets indoors. And it was (I measured it ) cell sized at 6 foot by 9 foot. Just basic primitive !
You had to request that a pail of water (hopefully boiled water) be brought to one of the sheds outside in the “courtyard” if you wanted to wash up. One of the sheds next to the “wash shed”, was the “trash shed”, formally used for another purpose, but now had a deep pit in it where trash was being deposited. And, next to that shed, was the “‘relief station”, popularly know as the “out house” in the good ole USA. Except this “station” had no “sitting assist”. Just about a 10 inch hole in the concrete floor – no, I didn’t measure it.

So later, more new experiences. I really hadn’t practiced putting up my mosquito tent before going to Malawi. Judging by my entries that documented the time we started the last well that day, I expect it was dark by the time we were ready “to hit the hay”, and I had to use my flashlight to read the instructions. Now, where did I put that flashlight? Now, where do you stick this thingy?

Euthini Resthouse

Euthini Resthouse

That night I woke up at 1:30 am to answer nature’s call. She had two separate issues ! So, of course, O’Riley was looking over my shoulder….he’s the one that said Murphy was an optimist…. I couldn’t get the door unlocked ! I fiddled and fiddled with that lock and skeleton key for what seemed like 5 minutes, and was considering putting my shoulder to the door and “busting out”, which wouldn’t have been very hard to do. But, the bolt finally retracted and I was able to scurry from my cell out into the dark with nothing on but my night shorts and Walmart clogs, trying to feel my way along the “courtyard” out back with a “little” LCD light that almost let me see the ground before my feet.
I was able to crawl back into my tent a little later and get a few more hours sleep, but I won’t forget to fill out that little card you get at motels which asks how satisfied you were with your accommodations, and what they can do to improve their service….. (yeah, right, like they have one, but if they did ……… !)

You get what you pay for !…the room charge was 300 kwacha per night ..that’s $2.10 !!

During one of our last days in Malawi at a celebration banquet, we each were asked to describe our experience and how we met Jesus during our mission.

As I remember, I described it approximately as follows:

“I understand there are some foolish people in this room that think that they can make a difference by aspiring to the impossible. I never thought you would be able to cram a weight-loss camp, a fraternity hell week, an army boot camp, and an off-road truck rally into just a three week period. But, you were successful.

If you didn’t meet God at the well sites, when you saw crystal clear water coming up out of that red dusty earth, and see the faces of the children when they splashed in the stream coming out of the well, or faced a Mama Gogo speaking to you in a foreign language with her hands in a prayer position, or received the thanks in English from the Village Elders who requested that you help their neighbor villages… just weren’t paying attention ! ”

  • If you go to rural Malawi with a hard heart and install shallow wells, you won’t come back that way !
  • I can assure you that I saw the impossible becoming possible, through the communion of the Marion Medical Mission volunteers, the people in the villages, and the churches of Malawi, Zambia, and Tanzania. 
  • Every penny you provide goes for a well that can be sustained by the African villagers and the Africans that have been trained to assist with it’s maintenance, so that once we leave, they are not dependent upon our return should a problem develop with the well.
  • This was indeed, the most intense, spiritual, emotional, and unique experience in my lifetime.