Monday 7th October 2013
I’ve been in Kumbo since I arrived three weeks ago. It’s a busy commercial town, tightly packed with houses and people.
Its multi-religious nature is reflected in the many churches. It has a Catholic cathedral and a Muslim mosques standing almost side by side in the entertainment quarter known as Squares. (It’s where I went for my birthday, where the fish and chips are delicious and not like they are in England).
It is also where the Muslim call to prayer at 5 a.m. every morning originates and is so loud that I’ve only managed to sleep through it a couple of times – because I’ve been exhausted from the night before.
If that doesn’t wake me the noise from the loud music next door which usually begins around 6 a.m. (and on one occasion at 4 a.m.) usually does.
The streets show evidence of inadequate waste disposal as the town attempts to deal with the many hundreds, possibly thousands of people who pour into it each day to work, shop, or engage in financial transactions.
Interspersed with all of this are glimpses of the beauty of the distant hills, and much closer to hand the red earth is thrown into sharp contrast by the vivid green of banana trees, palm trees and other lush vegetation.
I have to confess that the mud and the rubbish on the streets, the fumes of the heavy lorries bringing goods to the supermarkets, and the constant whine of the hundreds of motorbikes that are used here as taxis, have at times got to me.
But I’ve been so focused on teaching and on meeting the people who have aided my spiritual development that I’ve not had time to get out of Kumbo. Until this weekend that is, when I took the trip to Mbhosha to see two of SEREP’s other projects; the clinic and the women’s empowerment groups.
I had been told that Mbhosha is beautiful but that the road to get to it was difficult and dangerous when wet. Indeed a couple of the volunteers who worked in the clinic and with the women’s groups reported coming off their bikes on more than one occasion on the way home after heavy rain had made the road a mud bath.
I had vowed to take a proper taxi and pay the extra money to get there. However, my host told me it was very difficult to get to his place by car and that he would send a bike with a reliable rider to get me.
Although the bike was an hour late arriving, it gave me a chance to talk to one of the students who had arrived at the head office for extra-curricular computer lessons about the importance of believing in yourself.
It is no lie that the road to Mbhosha is tricky. The rider confirmed this as soon as I got on the bike. I asked if he’d mind if I held on to him as it was my first time on a bike without having someone behind me (three on a bike is common here).
I don’t know what I’d have done if he’d refused because he was my anchor as we bounced and weaved our way over the bumpy uneven roads, or more accurately mud tracks. Not only was I bouncing around like I was on a fairground ride, but my bones were being shaken out of their sockets by the very gravelly nature of the road. My leg was numb from trying to keep it in one position, i.e. tight on the bike, and I was happy I’d taken the advice to wear my Wellington boots. When I finally got off the bike they were splashed with mud that had flown up during the journey.
I had great admiration for the rider who had to use his feet to negotiate the bike out of the deeper ruts. One was so deep that the bike stalled three times as he tried to start it. I thought we might not be able to go on, but he was skilled and got us through it. I tried to film the road but soon gave up as I needed both hands to hold on.
There was a point, however, when I stopped noticing the road and started noticing the beauty of the surroundings. We had left behind the busyness of Kumbo, the rubbish and the noise, and was passing through the most beautiful mountains.
Imagine the Lake District in England with sunshine on the hills, bathing the slopes in glorious shades of light and grey. Imagine valleys of palm trees so tightly packed together that they appear to be one giant tree.
I gasped with the sheer beauty of it and couldn’t stop exclaiming each time we came around another bend, ‘Oh, it’s beautiful!’
As we climbed the vegetation changed. By the time we arrived at our destination the palm trees, banana trees, and other tropical plants had given way to more temperate ones. By the time we stopped at our destination, or more accurately near our destination, because the bike had run out of petrol, there were bracken and grass covered hills identical to those in England.
We walked the last few yards to the compound and I was met by my host. He’s a quiet gentle man about 30-35 years old.
‘Welcome to my compound,’ Kari said shaking my hand warmly. ‘These are my daughters,’ he added pointing to two small girls and a slightly taller one. They too welcomed me. I was surprised to see that they wore make up, including lipstick. I wondered why, because they were stunningly beautiful without it.
Kari took my bag, took me to the parlour and asked the eldest daughter Baki to bring me tea while he went to deal with the rider. Kari explained that I had to pay him 1500F now and the balance of 3000F when he took me back to Kumbo tomorrow. This was a far cry from the 12,000F it would have cost if I’d taken a car.
All of this was incidental, however, because I was gawping at the scenery around me. At the sheep and goats grazing on the hills, at the trees resting on the tops of the mountains like punctuation marks, at the flowering hedgerows that surrounded the house.
I hadn’t had time to drink my tea before Kari said he had to help catch a horse. I went out to watch (the tea was in a thermos anyway) and recalled the film ‘The Horse Whisperer’ as I watched him approach one horse in the middle of about ten others. I watch as he whispered quietly to the horse while gently stroking it. When the horse was totally trusting he quickly and deftly slipped the rope over his neck and led him off. The three young men who had been standing around and the other horses followed.
All except one which was tied to a tree. It provided a perfect backdrop for a photo shoot of the girls and a little boy who belonged to the bike rider who had so skilfully delivered me to this paradise.