Designated Driver

21 08 2007

On May 27th, 2007, I had the most surreal village visit of my career as a missionary. It took place on a Sunday in the village of Legue Legue, which is about as far out in the Kabiye boonies as one can go. Now, the church in Legue meets for worship around 7am and since it is an hour and a half drive out there, I had planned to get up super early to leave by 5:30am. That plan failed, however, as I slept through the alarm and didn’t get on the road until 6:30. I hit the road rushed and tired, hoping that the coffee (and bumpy road) would eventually wake me up.


With the late start, I debated whether I should even go or not since the worship service would probably be over by the time I arrived (which turned out to be the case). But, I knew it had been awhile since that church had had any visitors and I figured I could at least track down a few Christians at their homes (or their fields) and give them some encouragement. So I drove on, mildly optimistic about the morning’s possibilities. If only I had known…

At this point in my story, I’m going to skip ahead to what transpired on the drive home from Legue. The village visit itself is worth at least two posts and I’ll write those later.

When I started off for home, I had 3 more passengers in the car with me – two young girls and an older man. The girls were getting a ride to have their grain ground at the mill which was about 2 km away. The man – the father-in-law of one of the Legue Christians – was returning to his home village and was going to ride as far as Sanda Kagbangda (about a 50 minute drive from Legue).

In the small world that is Kabiyeland, I actually knew this man since I passed his house regularly on the way to another village I work in. I’d given him a couple of rides before and he and his sons helped to dig out my truck when it had gotten stuck near their place.

Still, when I saw him at Legue, I didn’t recognize him. (And he certainly didn’t recognize me!) You see, he was SO drunk his appearance had changed. It took me 3 or 4 double takes before I decided that, yes, I knew this guy.

So, off we went. Me driving, two young girls sitting in the back with their corn and the drunk old man (DOM) who didn’t know me (or himself?) from Adam riding shotgun. I had given the old man the seat of honor in the truck (an error in judgment I was soon to discover.)

When we arrived at the girls’ stop, I got out to help them unload their corn. DOM got out too. I thought he needed to take a leak, but when I got back behind the wheel, I realized he was thinking this was his stop too. It took a little bit of explaining, but I was able to convince him that this wasn’t his stop and get him back in the car. We forged on.

Not 5 minutes later, DOM asked me (in Kabiye), “Where are we going?”

“We’re going to Kagbangda” I replied.

“This isn’t the road to Kagbangda,” he said. He seemed genuinely confused and concerned.

Trying to keep him calm I said evenly, “This is the way to Kagbangda. In fact, it’s the only way to Kagbangda by car. You probably came to Legue a different way because you were on a moto.” But that didn’t seem to ease his concern.

“This is not the way to Kagbangda! I want out of this car!” he exclaimed while trying to open the door by pulling on the window crank.

At this, I quickly reached across him and locked his door, thinking that his inexperience in riding in cars and drunken stupor would keep him from successfully unlocking the door, opening it and flinging himself out of the truck as it bounced along the road (we were on an extremely rough stretch of road, by the way). Thankfully, I was right about that, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

I kept trying to reassure him that I knew where I was going and that he was going to have to trust me. He calmed down (or forgot where he was and what he was doing – I’m not sure) and I breathed a sigh of relief. I did not want leave DOM alone to try to find his way home through the Kabiye boonies (think occasional cultivated fields and small villages sprinkled within a jungle) while he was drunk, alone and on foot!

Well, after 5 minutes of uneasy silence, DOM grabs the door handle (by chance, I think) and states, “I want out of this car. This is not the road to Kagbangda!”

Oh boy. Here we go again!” I thought. “Good think I locked that door!

I tried to calm him down again, but this time DOM wasn’t having it. As we had turned onto another, less bumpy dirt road, he continued to yell, “Let me out of this car! What are you doing to me?!”

“Help me!” he yelled at another car which was approaching us from opposite direction. “This white man won’t let me out” Then, DOM reached over and grabbed the steering wheel and proclaimed, “I’m going to wreck this truck!”

Acting quickly, I was able to stop the truck before it ran into the trees on the left. Then, deciding that I needed some help, I began to signal to the other car to stop by waving my arm up and down out of the window. (This is the universal signal for “stop” in W. Africa.) The car slowed but kept on rolling past us. Everyone in the car had a confused look on their face.

I quickly hopped out the car and kept signaling to the car to stop for us. I could tell that they were conflicted because the car slowed, accelerated and then slowed again. I could just hear them saying, “Should we stop or not?” “Yeah, lets stop.” “Okay, but what if he is a serial killer?” “You’re right! Keep going!” “Naah, let’s stop and see what is going on.”

When I saw they had stopped and were getting out of the car, I let DOM out of the truck (I didn’t trust him in there alone!) and then went to meet the 3 men who’d finally stopped to help, or at least satisfy their curiosity. Thankfully, they all spoke Kabiye and I was able to quickly explain to two of them the situation, while the third guy took on the task of deciphering DOM’s slurred speech.

I asked them what I should do with DOM, they quickly responded, “Leave him.” I really didn’t want to do that, and started asking them about the appropriateness of that action. They explained that someone would take him in until he sobered up enough to walk home and that I shouldn’t have to deal with this.

While I was getting this advice, the third guy who was talking with DOM, interjected “HE GRABBED YOUR STEERING WHEEL?!” That pretty much solidified the idea in my advisors’ heads that I should leave DOM to fend for himself and I resigned myself to leaving him behind.

But as I was leaving, DOM asked the men if the road we were on went to Kagbangda. They explained to him that it did and that I was trying to do a nice thing for him. After some more explaining (and repeating) DOM seemed convinced that I was going the right way and he announced that I was going to take him home. Great!

We went back to the car. This time I put DOM in the back seat and made sure that the child safety locks were activated on both back doors. (If I had had a chain link partition to put up between the front and back handy, I would have put that up too!)

Over the next 20 minutes on that road, we had the “Is this the way to Kagbangda?” discussion about 3 or 4 times. A couple of those times DOM tried to open the door. Thank goodness for those drunken old men locks!

Then, just before we came to the paved road which would take us to Kagbangda. DOM saw some women carrying wood into town and started shouting at them (and me) “Let me out of this truck! Where are you taking me?!”

Frustrated and tired of trying to reason with a man incapable of reasoning, I stopped the car and let DOM get out. Then I got back in the car. DOM was on his own now. Still, I paused as I watched DOM go over and talk to the women.

They chatted for awhile and then, sure enough, the women came to talk to me. “Sir, please take this man to Kagbangda,” they pleaded. “It isn’t that far.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” I said as I got out of the car to let DOM back in to his secured backseat position.

Then, as DOM was getting back into the car I asked him, “Do you know who I am?” No answer.

I continued, “Do you remember when a white man’s truck got stuck in the road near your house during a big rainstorm and he had to leave it overnight and the next day you and your sons help dig the truck out of the mud?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s the missionary who goes to Po Wayi.”

“Well,” I said, “I AM that missionary! THIS is that truck! You have got to trust me. I am taking you to Kagbangda!”

“Oh,” DOM replied and we continued on our way.

Thankfully, DOM didn’t have any more “episodes” the rest of the way. The only thing I remember him saying was when were getting closer to our destination – probably about 20 km. outside of Kagbangda – he exclaimed, “Okay! Now I know where we are going! This is the road to Kagbangda! Thank you!” Finally, he sees the light!

We arrived at Kagbangda and he thanked me profusely for giving him a ride. I was little worried that he still might not be able to find his way home. But, as it turned out, he made it just fine. (I saw him on my way to Po Wayi a few weeks later and he gave me a big smile and a wave.)

As I pulled away and headed for home, I just smiled, shook my head and thought, “Who knew ‘designated driver’ was the role the Lord wanted me to fill today.”

All in a day’s work!




3 responses

22 08 2007

Be sure and bring back a bottle of whatever it was that Dom was drinking for me (kidding).

22 08 2007

A great story froma great life. I’ve not had many adventures like that here in Albany. Looking forward to October.

22 08 2007

Holy cow! That is a great story. So much for trying to be a good Samaritan!

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