Most Americans know a little swahili even if they do not know it. The movie The Lion King is uses a number of swahili words and “hakuna matata” really does mean no worries. Even more surprising though is that Timon and Pumba’s lifestyle of hakuna matata is reasonably biblical, which seems strange considering the duo are best classified as irresponsible and probably reckless—not generally seen as American ideals.
I am helping a friend coordinate a water project in the northern town of Laisamis, where we also have a church plant. Trying to keep things moving forward, I plannned a special one day trip with Williams to meet with the water officer, take pictures of the site, and map out the project with my GPS.
Our car is vibrating to pieces, and since our front end is literally being held together by zipties, Williams arranged a rental car for this trip offroad. Amazingly, although this particular road is unbelievably bumpy and has probably caused the most damage to our SUV, there are no big obstacles and it can be driven by small car, a Toyota Corolla complete with tuner exhaust in our case. You do have to endure people staring at you as they shout in concern, “where are you planning on going in that baby car?”
The idea was to leave at 7am, make the 3 hour drive, meet and do everything in Laisamis, and then be back in Nanyuki with time to prepare supplies to send with our orphans and sponsored students the next day. We were on schedule as we prepared to leave Laisamis.
Rental cars in Kenya are opposite of America. Instead of picking it up full of gas and returning it full, you get it empty and any gas left will be enjoyed by whoever rented the vehicle (individuals let car companies rent out their private vehicles). To me, it almost feels like a game to try and return it with as little fuel as possible. Inevitably, you never buy enough fuel on the first fill-up.
We were going to add some fuel in Laisamis before we left, but when the person started at 200 shillings per liter when it normally goes for between 110-120 fixed price. She dropped down to 180 a liter as Williams walked away annoyed by their attempted price gouging. After careful calculations on our fingers, we decided to go for it—127km through the bush to the next gas station on a quarter tank in an unfamiliar car with very spotty cell phone service in between.
At 60km out the low fuel light came on and I started praying inside. At 10km out the car sputtered on a steep hill. Being a Florida boy, I had only heard stories of people’s cars stalling while climbing an incline even though their tank was not completely empty yet. Luckily we made it over the hill and never had another steep spot.
My heart was racing and I could see the nervousness in Williams grip on the steering wheel. Most Kenyans who travel in the bush have a story of fearfully spending the night under the stars with their car. As I was praying, the phrase hakuna matata and Matthew 6:34 popped in my head. The verse in Matthew says, “Do not worry about tomorrow,for tomorrow will worry about itself…” Luckily I have never realized until just looking it up that in ends in “…Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Anyways, that wonderful phrase made popular by Disney gave me peace. I committed the situation to God and decided that whatever happens I am in His hands.
We coasted down the last hill into Archers Post and the engine stalled as we pulled in front of one of the shops that sells fuel (notice I said shop. There are no gas stations, but only shops that have fuel in 5 liter bottles). Praise the Lord!!! We were so relieved, and bought 2 bottles happy to only pay 120 shillings a liter.
The car sputtered a little as we worked the air out of the fuel line, but soon we were cruising again, hakuna matata. 10 km later the car sputters to a stop in the middle of nowhere.
I have heard that when a fuel tank gets to the bottom the crud in the bottom can splash up and clog the filter. I always carry a full wrench set in my car on trips but in the rental, all we had was my swiss army style mutitool that I keep strapped to my backpack, more useful for the knife and bottle opener than dinky pliers. We could not loosen any of the fittings needed to check if there was a fuel flow problem.
Williams hitched a ride to the nearest village and came back on a motorcycle with the local handyman/mechanic. I was left watching the car with Mary, an older Turkana lady who only knew about 4 phrases in english. It was very awkward at first but she was extremely nice as we struggled to find things to talk about in Swahili. I am good at certain topics, but others I just do not have the vocabulary for and we had a lot of time to fill.
When she found out I was a missionary, she kept repeating “karibu Kenya mara kumi (welcome to Kenya times ten),’ and “Kenya ni inchi yetu/yangu/yako (Kenya is our/my/your country).” It was nice to feel accepted when so many people love to yell “hey mzungu” (mzungu translates white person but has an underlying connotation of foreigner).
Mary also repeated a significant phrase to fill the silences, “hakuna matata.” It took multiple times before I realized the significance. My life lesson on worrying was not over yet. One minute I was praising God for His faithfulness in letting us reach the next fuel stop, and the next I am frustrated that we are broken down. As we sat on the side of the road, Mary sang me a little, homemade song that in paraphrase translation goes, “Hakuna matata. Kenya is a good place. Kenya is your/my/your country. In Kenya there are no worries or problems. If you do not accept them, you will never have any problems. God is in control. Mary repeated these sentences over and over in different orders whenever we ran out of things to talk about and I felt both comforted and convicted.
John was not a trained mechanic, but he was very good at troubleshooting the problem and he had tools. In the end though everything checked out fine. The fuel system was working, but the car was acting like it was starved for gas.
We tried flagging down people to tow us but no one had a rope and you may only see a couple cars in an hour. Again, I always travel with tow straps and recovery gear in my car. It was getting late in the evening and we decided to push the car to Ngaremara, the closest village, before it got dark. Maybe someone there would have a car to tow us to Isiolo and the nearest garage and hotel.
There was a car but thinking we were desperate the driver was trying to overcharge us by a lot and we still had a repair bill to pay. We tried flagging down a few more vehicles with no luck. While Williams worked on a ride I sat and waited. A few girls who knew english well came and started talking to me. They told me to go over to some shops and find the man who works in Sudan. They said he would definitely help us. I thanked them for the advice but we already had a backup plan. The motorcycle driver who came with Williams and John the mechanic was a pastor. He told us to call if we had any trouble getting to Isiolo to sleep.
We called Pastor Peter and he met us in town. We pushed the car to John’s house and they welcomed us in. We did not know that our mechanic was going to be our host.
John and his wife Josephine were incredibly gracious. They fed us chicken for dinner, borrowed a mattress to put on the floor for us to sleep on, and made us feel completely at home. In the morning they fed us bread and eggs. Chicken and eggs are like delicacies for the people in these rural areas and very generous.
Josephine had an incredible testimony to share. There were a number of girls that helped her prepare things. She explained that none of them were their biological children, but girls they were taking care of. One of the girls they rescued from a trash pile where she was abandoned. People in the village and even their family question their selflessness. Josephine is the oldest child in her family and as such is expected to help with her younger siblings’ school fees. Amazingly, as John and Josephine used their resources to care for these girls, God opened the door for school sponsorships for all her siblings. To her it was so easy to help people in response to Jesus’s love, because she saw that they more she sacrificed for others, the more God provided for their personal needs in miraculous ways. While talking to John, we found out that he learned about cars because he drives for an NGO in South Sudan. The man who works in Sudan that the girls knew would definitely help us was John!
In the morning after a good nights rest, we got a tow to Isiolo straight to a mechanic. As he looked into the fuel system problems that we checked the evening before, he found the problem. It was not a clog. The lady at Archers Post sold us diesel and not gasoline. I think it was an honest mistake as she was not the person who usually runs the shop. Still I am determined to learn how to tell diesel and gas apart even if I have to do it by taste.
Speaking of tasting gas. To confirm his suspicion that we had diesel in the tank, the mechanic injected gas into the engine by mouth to see if the engine would run. Talk about dedication. It did, so we drained the tank. Without a drain plug and without a pump, the mechanics came up with quite an ingenious solution. They disconnected the fuel line and used the cars fuel pump to push out the diesel. Relying on battery to turn over the engine and run the pump was not very practical because we would have drained all their batteries before the tank was empty. They used a squirt bottle to feed gas in the engine and let it run as it drained the tank.
We spent some time checking up on a church property in town before we hit the road to head home. It was such a relief to be driving again but we did not make it far. A few miles outside Isiolo we ran into another problem. The car was fine, but there were people everywhere and an 8 ft pile of branches in the road. We approached cautiously thinking it may have to do with the nationwide teachers strike. We were told to turn around or our car would be stoned and burned. We happily listened.
I thought we were stuck again. The police had shot a young man that the locals thought was innocent. They were closing the road in protest. They were not really looking to harm vehicles but just to make a point. The roadblock was set up to keep people from reaching the angry mob further down. Luckily, Williams knew a detour. It added about 45 minutes but we arrived in Nanyuki, low fuel light on and running on fumes ready to return the rental.
Williams and I finally made it home with a story to tell and a lot of work to catch up on, but I want to end on my car watching buddy Mary and her song. Mary was a widow. She was struggling to take care of 7 children and the only thing she had to bring home to feed her and her family that evening was an avocado. Still her simple song taught the missionary hakuna matata God is in control. Our life can be full of detours and setbacks to where we are trying to go, but it is our choice whether or not we worry and stress. God had a plan and I met many wonderful people along the way. Williams is going to ask John and Josephine to recommend a child to be sponsored in our community program.
A mentor from my youth taught me that it takes 2 people to have a fight. People will be angry with you, but is your choice whether that turns into a fight. If you keep your cool, there is no fight no matter what the other person does. In the same way, life will always have problems. Matthew 6:34 “…Each day has enough trouble of its own.” You can choose to trust that God has these troubles under control or you can worry about each one. The choice is yours alone. My choice, Hakuna matata.
“There is no such thing as problems in life. Only opportunities for God to prove Himself.” –Bill Bright, Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ