Vans are the preferred way to travel in Uganda for tourist groups with modest means. Several people can fit in them comfortably. Called “cabs,” they are very old mini vans that tend to billow smoke as they chug along the roads. They have very little padding left in the seats and about the same amount of tread left on the tires. The windows are always open, rain or shine. On this particular day, our group was taking a van to the airport in Uganda, for our flight to Nairobi, Kenya, and eventually home.
Our group of short-term missionaries had come to Uganda to work in several villages by bringing food, toys, clothing and a life changing message. We visited several schools and held an open air meeting on the square where several hundred people sat on surrounding hillsides to watch and listen. Some of our group were dressed as clowns, some did tricks with a basketball, mesmerizing the kids. They called a few kids up on stage and taught them the tricks. Others in our group helped the crowd learn the English version of one of their African songs. That was an amazing evening. As we boarded the van, people talked excitedly about connections they had made that night. They were chattering enthusiastically about returning the following year. We agreed that the African people were amazing in the way they welcomed us when we arrived the week before. We were struck by how thoughtful and gentle they were. We fell in love with the people and couldn’t wait to return.
On the day we were to leave the country, sixteen of us with all our luggage were packed into a van meant for eleven passengers. We sat on our suitcases or had them at our feet or both. We sat sideways in the seats while others had to have their hands on the ceiling just to keep their balance. We had become accustomed to the air being heavy with humidity and perspiration. Oddly, not a single one of us smelled like we had showered in a week. Open windows were a necessity.
As we laughed and shared stories in the van, the driver was busy trying to start the van. It took several attempts. One by one conversations died away and the passengers’ attention was drawn to the whining sound of the engine straining to start. A common characteristic of these vans was that if they started, they would take you to a deserted highway, miles from a city, backfire, billow smoke and die. One woman giggled as she remarked that hopefully we would have a less eventful trip out of the country than we had coming in. We all agreed as our minds drifted to the late night trip into Uganda. We recalled the chilling experience of the after-midnight breakdown on a desolate, black-as-pitch highway. We thought it was as bad as it could get. Then someone turned on the interior lights. We were instantly joined by a thousand mosquitoes. What a night that was. Someone else commented that since this was morning, we were not in danger of breaking down along the highway at night. As if on cue, the van started and the passengers cheered.
This wasn’t as promising as it might seem. See “Hang On To Your Seat on Field Trips” in Kindergarten Lessons I Learned in Africa, published by Xulon Press, 2013