Some days, maybe a lot more days now, we are just thankful to be alive. Thankful to be able to see the sunset in the evening, or the rain the next day. Thankful for each other. Thankful to see the hope that exists in a child's eye, when the reality of the world takes you to the edge of human capacity. Some days, we are just thankful.
The experience we just lived through here told us that more than ever, and if we didn't realize it before the truck accident, we sure realize now, how fragile life is, and how there is nothing more important in life than life itself.
We left Iringa early in the morning as usual after packing up the tents. Everyone was pretty pleased that at least it had not rained on us the night before. As we hopped into the back of Pangani, our overland truck, we were all getting excited about getting to Malawi, and camping on the side of it's fantastic lake. Later that morning, the whole world changed forever. As we were coming into a right hand corner, shortly after the rain had started to fall lightly, I felt something funny with the truck. We felt like we were coming into the corner way too fast. I was sitting against the window on the left about three rows back, and Kristine was beside me. I rarely take my eyes off the road when I am a passenger because I am a bit of a control freak, and the whole thing felt too fast to me anyway. So, I saw it coming.
As we started to drift, I already knew it was too late. We were not turning. We were not going to be turning any time soon either. Instinctively, I yelled out to Kristine "Hold on!", and fortunately she grabbed the back of the seat in front of her, as did I. Next, as we hit the guardrail, I yelled out "We're going over!" I knew it would not hold us with all of our weight and the speed we were going. It was just whether or not we were going to roll. Kristine thought I was warning her about another bump, which we had been encountering often, but she also said that she knew from my voice that it was a lot more serious than that, so she reacted more quickly. It probably saved her from more injury because she really didn't see it coming.
Then it turned into hell. It was surreal. It can't be happening. It was the most silent and the noisiest thing at the very same time. It was slow motion and fast forward in the same instant. Things went flying. In addition to all of people's things like books, water bottles, sun glasses, and clothing, the table tops came off their mountings and became projectiles. The two coolers went flying, and those who were not strapped in flew across the cabin. Some people were sleeping, and some were even standing at the back. It was crazy.
When we came to rest, those first few moments were the most urgent of my life. Not feeling anything, I immediately turned to Kristine right on top of me, and miraculously, we both seemed fine. There was screaming coming from all around us now, and after a few seconds, glass started to break at the front window as the driver outside tried to break in. I don't remember thinking so fast, but after realizing that Kristine and I were OK, my first reaction was that we all had to get out - worried about fuel ignition or something like that. Then we started to see the injuries. Some were very bad. A major head wound. A girl with a huge laceration on her leg. Another with compound fractures in her arm. A guy lost his ear and was severely concussed. Yet another with huge lacerations to the back of his head. We were in trouble. And we were in Africa.
Exit and first aid became the priority. Fortunately, we had a guy who was ex-Australian Navy and also a volunteer first aider. His experience probably saved some lives. We all got ourselves out and he and the tour guide used he first aid kit on the four most severely wounded, while the rest of us helped calm the injured, dealt with the minor injuries, and dealt with people in shock. We had to get help from local vehicles to transport the injured back to Mbeya after we stopped the bleeding and got some sort of stabilization. In spite of phone calls made by the guide, there is no such thing as an ambulance in southern Tanzania.
The other thing that was happening is that a large crowd of locals was gathering and it was a very strange feeling because it was a combination of "We want to help you!" and "We want to steal all of your stuff"! Those of us that could had to play, at least in part, a security role to protect all of our gear. In particular, there was a safe on the truck with a lot of money in it and all of our documents. It seemed like hours before we actually got all the wounded on their way to what would have to serve as a hospital (I never got there, but apparently the facilities were incredibly bare bones, and a lone volunteer American doctor came to the rescue. Some of our tour mates had to serve as nurses).
The rest of us stood at the scene for a couple of hours at least before we were collected with all our gear and taken back to Mbeya to a religious centre with rooms called the Karibuni Centre. The place was run by a Swiss woman, and arrangements had been made to take care of us for a few days. After getting everyone organized into beds, the less severely injured were shuttled back and forth to clinics for treatment. Kristine and I waited until the next day, but eventually we went to an Agha Khan clinic in Mbeya to get looked at, but let me tell you, the experience was a bit shocking. The level of care available is just unbelievable and I can only imagine the facilities at the hospital where the more seriously wounded were treated.
We eventually found out that the seriously injured had been med-evac flown out in very small aircraft (the pilots were walking the runways before taking off to look for holes and things - luckily they landed OK) because the runway was too short for larger planes. This meant that no one could accompany the injured and they would be in the hands of caregivers in Nairobi or Johannesburg as the case was. Just incredible...
I almost don't know what else to say...
Our first reaction was that we were done with the trip. We were heading home. The Honeymoon was over, and we'd had enough. But after we slept on it, and after we thought about it a bit, what we really wanted was to get away from what we now believed to be a form of travel that didn't seem all that safe and potentially an operator that just did not take the safety aspects of travel in Africa seriously enough. We just didn't feel that things were well handled well since the accident (See my supplementary entry after this one for in depth notes if you are interested). We just wanted out. And fortunately, the operator let us get out (with a partial refund at this point) of the trip once we made Livingstone.
In a small way, we were sad that we were giving up things like Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and Etosha National park in Namibia, but we had already seen a lot of wildlife in some of the more famous parks, and there was also the issue of Kristine wanting to see Cathy around the time the baby would be born anyway. When we were last in Australia, we talked a whole lot about just booking the trip to Livingstone in the first place, then coming back to Australia for the birth to help out Cathy and Kelvin, and then carrying on with South America after that. And that folks, is exactly what have wound up doing.
Our agent in Vancouver helped us arrange tickets to Melbourne from Livingstone (which I then had to go to the airport to pay for because there is no such thing as an electronic ticket in Africa), got us our visas renewed, and we then spent 3 days in a hostel in Livingstone by the pool waiting for our flight, having left the tour group. I was proud of us for being so decisive under such stressful circumstances.
It's perfect really. We have seen some of Africa. We are also not missing one of the most important times in the lives of our family. And we are getting a much needed break from the daily slog of travel (Plus some decompression time for sure!). We will be coming back to South Africa in early March to pick up where we would have at the end of the overland journey in Capetown, from where we will eventually get on to Argentina - and keep this ball rolling.
But let me tell you, there was nothing like looking into the eyes of my newly born nephew and witnessing life in it's simplest form after having stared down the barrels of death. Your life is changed forever.
And that's a good thing.