Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In a skirt, hurling myself six feet up and over the edge of that boat …


Continuing with our trip to Mfangano Island, in Lake Victoria, to attend the Suba people’s cultural celebration … 

… I stood on the shore and agonized over our options. Which would be better, to venture out on this huge lake in a lightning storm or spend the night with rats? I didn’t have to think long. I could live with rat-scarred toes, but I’d never survive a capsized boat in a storm.

I wondered—should I say something to Marvin and Joyce? Should I say I’d changed  my mind and wanted to stay on the island after all?

Just then, our Suba friend said, “Wait here. I’ll go back to the plane to see if the boat went to that shore by accident.”

So we waited.

A few minutes later in the hushed darkness, my husband, Dave, pointed. “Look over there. Isn’t that a boat?”

In the dim moonlight, sure enough, a long, thin, black line headed toward us, but I couldn’t hear the motor. In the shadows, I could see that a man stood in the boat and that he propelled it toward us by pushing a pole against the bottom of the lake. That method would never get us to the mainland.

I could still see the lightning storm in the distance, but it hadn’t blown any closer. Maybe we could make the trip after all.

The boat scraped onto the sand in front of us, and the man inside jumped down and disappeared into the bushes behind us.

We waited in silence, though that did not imply patience.

About ten minutes later, someone approached from the shadows behind us. He carried an outboard motor.

“Ah,” we whispered to each other, “that will help.”

To my surprise, no one made any moves to climb in. I wanted to holler, “Let’s get this show on the road!” but instead I looked around. Still no one moved. I’m sure God Himself intervened and convinced me to squelch my American goal-oriented compulsions, keep my mouth shut, and watch to see what would happen next.

So we waited again.

Eventually another Suba approached out of the dark carrying a fuel can.

“That’s a good idea,” we white people nodded in agreement.

It seemed that everyone moved in slow motion but, in due course, the Suba men hooked up the motor and filled it with gas. The time had come to climb in.

Easier said than done. We weren’t supposed to touch the water because bilharzia-causing parasites live there and they can cause life-long damage to internal organs. That meant we had to climb up and over the only part of the boat on shore, the tip, nearly six feet off the ground.

Marvin climbed in and pulled me up by the arms while Dave stood on shore and pushed. Mind you, because I was in rural Africa, I wore a skirt. Hurling myself six feet up and over the edge of that boat, in a skirt, was not an easy task and I hoped the dark night hid my burning cheeks. Quaint I ain’t.

Joyce, always ladylike, climbed in with grace and modesty.

We set out into the night with the Suba man in charge of the motor and rudder. The voyage would take an hour and a half, so we settled in. The wind had died down and we saw only an occasional flash of lightning in the distance.

We puttered past a couple of little islands. They had no electricity so we didn’t actually see them; we only sensed large shadows beside us.

We hadn’t traveled long when the motor sputtered. My heart sputtered, too. Oh, Lord, please don’t let us break down.

We chugged on.

Then it happened. The motor coughed—and died altogether.

We sat there in the hushed blackness. No one said a word.

Then the Suba man’s deep, rich voice split the darkness. He drew out each word slowly, “Eet eez a loooong sweem.”

I caught my breath. Could he be serious? I don’t know how to “sweem!”

I sat petrified in the stillness. Waves slapped against the side of the boat, but no one said anything.… (From Grandma’s Letters from Africa, Chapter 7)

To be continued.…


  1. Oh, come on, you're not stopping there, are you? Really? Well we know you are still alive today, so...

  2. Oh my goodness! But I thought you couldn't even touch the water because of the nasty parasites? Now I'm waiting with baited breath to find out what happens next...

  3. Yikes! you are gonna keep us waiting to see what happens with the long sweem!?....Can't wait to hear more.

  4. Yep, you'll have to c'mon back! Like Jamie Jo said, you know I lived through it.... :)


  5. Wow, what a cliff hanger! Can't wait to hear the rest :)

    1. Hi, Lynn, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I clicked over to your blog and I applaud your very important ministry in Kenya! God bless you! And I LOVE your green ugali for St. Patrick's Day!