Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blown Tires: Holiday Lessons from a Road Trip Part II

Speed bumps were not the only reason that we took 25 hours to cross the country with the new-to-us vehicle. We were also treated to some tire issues. By tire issues I meant that we had two flat tires, one sliced tire, and one tire that just kind of exploded, and all of these were on the right back side. This has recently made me paranoid to the point where I am prone to stop and check my tires at random times just to make sure they are okay. I mean come on, that is almost one tire problem per six hours. 

The first tire however was really the deal breaker. We had been on the road since 4 am and it was almost 10 am when my back right side started limping along (like I said almost every 6 hours). I pulled over and hopped out to find my tire almost completely off the rim. We opened the back took out all the luggage, grabbed the jack, and while Marwa started to jack up the tire I started to remove the full size spare that I was very thankful for at that moment. It was that same moment of gratitude when I discovered that we had the wrong sized lug wrench. Not just slightly the wrong size, but spin freely around the lug nut wrong size. This was not looking so good. It was at that time that we decided to start trying to flag down another vehicle of similar size and shape. This should be simple right? Surely in Tanzania the land of Toyota Landcruisers we could find a vehicle of similar size.  It appeared it was going to become more difficult than I thought after the first five or so vehicles passed, with one compassionate soul in a small sedan and no hope of having a lug wrench that would fit being the only car to stop. We continued trying and even discussed the option of flagging down a bus and hitching a ride to the nearest town that was about an hour away. About then a car stopped that didn’t look like it would work, but they dug their wrench out of the trunk and with a blessing from God, it fit. They even helped us change the tire, get everything back into the car, and gave us directions to where we could get the tire fixed so that we could continue on with a spare. On a side note, we did get the tire fixed, buying a whole new tube. Which we were grateful for when our second tire problem, this one being the blown tire happened at about 9 pm that same night. 

It is not only speed bumps, it is not only the intentional, harmless things that slow us down. Not all of our interruptions to life are good interruptions like holidays. Not all interruptions make us want to stop and spend time with family and friends in festive get-togethers. Sometimes our interruptions are a lot more shocking than that, they are not enjoyable, they sometimes cause downright panic or heartache. Much like being stuck on the side of the road with a 6 month old in the African sun and no way to change a space tire.

There are also a lot of those during the Christmas season. People are separated from their families, with the holidays bringing this pain to the surface. Being alone is always harder to bear during a season aimed at bringing people together to share gifts, tacky sweaters, and eggnog. Broken homes, non-religious backgrounds, and our own personal tragedies can make the holidays a time of depression and shame instead of happiness and cheer. These blown tire times can be difficult to accept and deal with, especially if we are intent on dealing with them on our own.

The important lesson I learned from being stranded on the side of the road, besides always have a spare with a lug wrench that fits, is how to watch for others that are also stranded. We were only able to move on and continue our journey because someone took the time to help. The flat tire did not only interrupt our day, but also the day of other people. They were willing to help though, they were willing to be interrupted. We need to be willing to do the same thing this holiday season. We need to be willing to stop: our hectic schedules, our rushing around, and our self-absorbed busyness. We need to be willing to look out for and stop to help those who do not rush, glide, or otherwise move through this holiday season, but who get stuck and sink down into the depression that is their lives at Christmas time. We can learn, as I have learned, to watch out for those stranded on the side of the road because at another time in life that may have been or will be US.

May someone else be blessed by your love and care this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Speed Bumps Are Everywhere: Holiday Lessons from a Road Trip Part I

We recently were blessed to receive enough donations to purchase a vehicle for the mission work here. It is a new vehicle, at least that is what people here will tell you when they hear that it only has 100,000 kilometers on it. We were able to purchase it from another mission organization that has kept it in very good shape, I am sure just knowing we would be coming along later and need a vehicle. It has already been a blessing as Liz and I were able to go together yesterday and visit three different pastors, taking Christmas presents and playing Santa (on a side note, describing Santa to Tanzanians I realized that to them he sounds like a wizard “uchawi” which is not a good thing in their culture, something interesting to think about).

So far though the most interesting time we have had with the vehicle was getting it home. It was at the mission headquarters in Dar es Salaam and that is where we had to go to pick it up. Dar es Salaam, if you have never taken Tanzanian geography as a class in school, is literally on the other side of a pretty big country. We are less than an hour from the western border and Dar is on the Indian Ocean on the other side. We flew there, but obviously had to drive back. The trip in total was almost 25 hours of driving time, 18 hours of which we did the first day. What amazed me though is how many speed bumps Tanzania has. I didn’t count, maybe I should have, but I can promise you that there are a lot of speed bumps. A LOT. If speed bumps where removed I would guess I could reduce the road trip by at least four hours (by my very scientific estimation). 
All of this is not really exciting for you to read about, but this trip did get me thinking, assisted by 25 hours in the car. That just as the road from Dar to Tarime is FULL of spend bumps so are our lives. Our lives are full of things that slow us down. And they are annoying too. They require us to shift gears, always in the downward direction. They require extra attention because you don’t want to hit a speed bump at high speeds (trust me ;)). However when I explained the annoyance of speed bumps to a friend after returning from Dar she explained why they were so important. She explained what it was like before the speed bumps, the drunk drivers at high speed and the large number of children and adults killed every year in traffic accidents. All of a sudden speed bumps became much less of an inconvenience. And this is often the case in life. The things that cause us to downshift, slow down, and pay more attention to how we are driving are not always bad, as frustrating as they can sometimes be. Life’s speed bumps help us to slow down and pay more attention to how we treat others and how we treat ourselves. 

The holiday season is a great time to do this. You have probably already done a million and one things to get ready for the “Christmas Season.” Our schedules have become ramped up and we have become more stressed all in an effort to…enjoy the holiday season??? Holidays can cause a lot of stress, but they can also be a good and necessary speed bump. They change the layout of the road of our lives and can help us remember to slow down, watch how we are driving, watch out for others along the road of life, and be more aware of what is going on around us instead of just cruising through as though nothing has changed. It is not too late, if you haven’t taken time yet this year. Carve out some time for family, friends, and true celebration. Allow this holiday season to be the speed bump that extends your time with family and friends and helps you truly pay attention to them instead of causing frustration at your lack of progress on life’s road.

Blessings and Frustrations at Life’s Speed to All.

For part two on holiday lessons from a road trip stay tuned.