Saturday, September 12, 2009

Traveling In Convoy

NU (Nações Unidas—UN) vehicles traveling in convoy just outside Maputo, 1993. Taken from the dash of our trusty old Toyota, aka "The Beast".

Back in 1993-95, we traveled in convoy a lot here in Mozambique. That’s because Mozambique’s warring parties had only just signed the peace accord, and peace and order were not quite yet the order of the day. The illegal arms trade was alive and well and there was widespread banditry with frequent ambushes along the highways. So, for the sake of safety and like most everyone back then, whenever we made trips outside the city, we traveled in convoy with friends.

One fact about convoy travel is that the guy in front sets the pace. This can be tricky. I recall going on one particular weekend picnic trip with friends where we drove down a coastal road that ran perpendicular to the sand dunes. It was like riding a roller coaster and the guy leading the pack was going at a good clip (road conditions considered). We were bouncing around like jack-in-the-boxes in our Toyota pick-up cab, holding on for dear life. Our kids rode in the covered back, in proper seats with seatbelts of course. At one point we took a pit stop and got out to check on them (they were about 6 and 8 years old then) only to find picnic mats, coolers, chairs, etc. over-turned and in total disarray. Dwight commented on the mess to the kids and suggested they should have banged on the window to get our attention to stop or something. Their eyes went wide at this and they exclaimed, “But Dad! We were hangin’ on, just trying to survive!” And boy, if that just doesn't sum up our first few years in Mozambique.

I'm happy to say that after that, the convoy moved a bit slower.

Our kids hanging in the door of the old Toyota (1993). It was like their 2nd home.

I share this because on Wednesday this week while at the Mozambique/South Africa border, on our return home, we bumped into a long-time friend. It turned out that we were all headed the same direction so he suggested we follow him on an unpaved road that was a short cut that by-passed Maputo. “It’s a dirt road and it’s pretty bad in some spots but it will cut about 50 km off your trip.” We decided to do it and followed each other convoy-style, each taking his turn in the lead. He was right; the trip was shorter and the road did have bad spots. We bounced around like jack-in-the-boxes. But even though we groaned here and there, we couldn’t help but smile as we reminisced about those early years experiences in Mozambique.

Oddly enough, on day 2 of our trip home we ended up in a convoy situation once again (without meaning to) when we caught up to some slow travelers. Someone, obviously of importance, was being escorted somewhere and in true fashion for these parts, the police vehicle lead the procession with blue lights flashing on top, 6 armed men in the back and the siren screaming a medley of “Wee-o-wee-o-wee-o, Doo-do-doo-do-doo-do, Wow-wow-wow-wow, Ta-da-da-da-da-da-da-da.” The 3 vehicles that followed were flashing their hazard lights.

Now, normally if you want to get past slower traffic, you just pass. Not so with these guys. That would be very disrespectful and we may be perceived as a threat to security. So we followed them, in convoy, for many kilometers, over both smooth and bumpy roads.

Thankfully, they eventually turned off and we were free to travel at ease.

This morning, after just one day at home, Dwight (with Rick) packed up for another road trip to do more leadership training in remote areas while Heather and I stayed home. Can’t say I feel bad about missing out on another road trip.

Next week we anticipate the arrival of our first of four short termers who are due to arrive over the next few months. The extra hands will be great with kids at the school, getting photos/info updated, helping with the health program, etc. There will be many other jobs and interesting experiences as well. I can’t promise traveling in convoy will happen (although it could), but a ride over bumpy roads is pretty much a given. ☺

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