I just returned from a week-long conference on HIV medications, and I'm planning on sharing a few observations from an interesting week. However, I first want to share our journey back to Tenwek, which was an unexpected epic.
The journey from Nakuru (where the conference was) to Tenwek should take about 3 hours, and about halfway back, you pass through the town of Kericho, which is the heart of tea country, in part because of the profuse amount of rain the area gets. It's actually incredibly beautiful.
As we came to the outskirts of Kericho, the weather became typical, that is, a torrential downpour. And here the road narrows quite a bit. I was driving a van (not ours, but a borrowed one) with another missionary doc, and four of our Kenyan staff. Up ahead, an oversized lorry/truck was heading towards us, so I was hugging the shoulder.
What happened next was a blur, but it involved the wheel slipping off the shoulder, popping back on to the tarmac, hydroplaning across the width of the road at least twice, narrowly missing several oncoming cars, spinning 180 degrees, and sliding backwards off the road, stunned and shocked that we didn't tip over, which I had felt to be inevitable.
We quickly found that no one was hurt. We voiced a prayer of thanks, and I got out to inspect the vehicle. One of the rear tires was flat, the rubber having pulled away from the metal rim. So, we found the jack and the spare (fortunately in perfect condition), and changed the tire out. All this was accomplished in pouring rain.
An aside: I have a baseline essential tremor, a shaking that usually isn't very noticeable. But cold and adrenaline are two things that can exaggerate it quite a bit, the result being that I was shaking quite a bit by this point.
We got back in the car (which unfortunately still required A/C despite being freezing, to avoid fogging the windows), drove into the town, found a petrol station, and had all the tire pressures checked. As we got through to the other side of town, we heard a weird clicking noise from where we had changed the tire. We stopped, and a couple of us watched the car driving forward to confirm that nothing looked loose. Perhaps the alignment had gone a bit awry. We decided not to worry about it until, a few kilometers later, there was a distinct clunking sound, followed by a loud grating noise. We quickly pulled over, and got out to investigate.
The wheel had fallen off. That's right. The whole tire and wheel had fallen off the axle, and a total of zero lugnuts remained. However! The saving grace was that, though it had fallen off, it had remained upright in the wheel well, and so the whole car was resting on the upright wheel and the axle and brake disc never hit the ground.
So back out into the pouring rain. We recovered one lugnut from alongside the road, and after much discussion, took one nut from each of the other wheels, put a total of four on the tire, and drove back into town to an auto dealership that had stayed open late since they had heard we would be coming.
And so we arrive at Kericho Toyota, more soaked to the bone that I have ever been (my shoes are still too wet to wear 48 hours later), freezing cold, muddy, with me shivering like a psychiatric patient who has been on meds way too long.
They took immediate pity on us, brought us some coffee, and within a couple hours had replaced the lugnuts, repaired the tire, and test-driven the car, pronouncing it safe to drive. The owner of the place had extra pity on me, and gave me a bright yellow (and dry!) Toyota t-shirt to change into.
I'm glad it was bright yellow, since it would make us a bit easier to see, since we were now going to have to drive 2 hours home in the dark, which in Kenya is a situation we try very hard to avoid. It was still pouring rain. The end story is that we arrived safe, and I learned that Kenyans have an inexplicable habit of turning their brights on when they approach another driver at night, which is particularly difficult when it is pouring rain, and even worse when you are shaking like someone about to have a seizure.
And so it is that Rachel found me arriving home at 9:30pm, in squishing shoes, with a pronounced tremor, and a bright yellow Toyota t-shirt that she had never seen before, but thankfully, completely well and safe.
One last note: The odds of tail-spinning through a busy main road, and neither hitting anyone nor flipping the vehicle is low. The odds of your tire falling off your car, with no damage to anyone or the vehicle is also very low. The odds of both events happening in the space of 90 minutes is very much lower. And so we thank God, who sustains us in many ways, recognized or otherwise.
(a hint on the Achebe reference)