I sit at a guesthouse in Zongo, waiting for Mandaba to hire taxis that will take us to Gemena for a week of work with AFCA staff there. This place is familiar to me, having done lots of waiting in the past, even though I have yet to sleep here. It is safe and quiet behind the gate, so I lean back in the wooden chair and settle in for however long this process will take today. Jetlag graciously allowed for three hours of sleep last night, so I plan on doing some snoozing while I wait.
Before sleep even thinks of arriving, the gate swings open and two motorcycles slip in, ready to head south. One carries luggage and the other, people. I am grateful that our driver is not a smoker and that he, obviously, showered and put on clean, nice smelling clothes before he came for us. My face will be very close to his jacket, so these details have become important to me on a six hour ride like today’s. Sandwiched between two large men, I can’t see in front of me, so I have no idea when a dip or hole are about to be hit and each time, the shock reverberates through me, with three of us groaning as we settle again, with the driver landing on my lap before scooting up the inch I need to breath.
I am ready for the sunburn of my life, as my sunscreen lotion is still somewhere in transit and my baseball cap was stolen at the airport. The day is hot, so very hot, with a heavy air that leaves my lungs needing oxygen. We roar out of town with three bottles of water strapped to the back of the bike and some protein bars, three apples, and pork jerky in my pack, which is strapped to the front of the driver, Joseph.
We are only a few miles out of town when the air changes dramatically and I smell rain. The clouds change color and the sky opens up, forcing us to take refuge in a structure where bricks are drying. We chat with others we meet before we hit the road again. Pushing off once again, we quickly become conscious that the temperature has dropped and how I wish that third total had arrived, as my rain jacket is packed nicely in there. Ah, well, for now, I will count on body heat to help, although my arms are already covered in goosebumps.
Not ten minutes pass before the deluge really hits, with lighting and thunder keeping time with ducks who swim in puddles by our feet as we huddle under a thatch roof of a random hut. We never meet the owners, but sit there, cold and soaked through, watching the road become a muddied mess and wondering how long before we can head out again.
After hours of riding, as we move forward at a snails pace because of the slippery mid, darkness and random animals that still cross the road at random times, I ask how much longer to arrive at Gemena and am told it will the two hours. Inside, I weep, but nod my head when Mandaba asks if I am ok.
11 hours after we started this journey, one stop to throw up due to inhaling nasty fumes from a slow-moving truck which took up the entire width of the road, two stops to put air in the tire, three stops due to rain, four stops at police checkpoints (where police and others asked me for money to buy coffee, every single time), one very scary moment as we drove in the pitch blackness of the night when we hit a rut and the bike almost fell over, and not enough sunburn to write about, we arrive in Gemena.
Covered in mud, with screaming hip flexors and lower backs, exhausted, and deeply grateful for being safe, we stumble into a hotel at 9:15pm, where a cold bucket of water greets me, beckoning me to remove the grime, sweat, and dried rain from my body. I try not to whimper as I pour the cold water over my tangled hair. I fail.
I pour again and again until the water runs clear.