It is early afternoon on a day in late August. We are in the city of Muena Ditu, waiting as our driver/mechanic fixes the Land Cruiser. We arrived in Muena Ditu two days ago, and car troubles have prevented us from continuing our important journey. It seems enigmatic that our faithful Land Cruiser persists in troubling us these two days, especially considering the importance of this trip and the people who are waiting for us. Two colleagues have gone out to get a couple of parts. Within the last two weeks before this trip we have taken our vehicle to our mechanic multiple times, painstakingly making sure all is ready. And now here we sit…waiting. Impatience creeps in. The CPC Legal Representative, our de facto leader, suggests we call Mbuji-Mayi and arrange for another vehicle to come and offer its services. As respectfully as I can manage, but perhaps with a twinge of impertinence, I squarely defend our department’s vehicle and request more time and patience. I argue that even other vehicles inevitably have problems with these roads, and that our vehicle still has it.
It…what is it? In Tshiluba, the word they use is “bukole,” which means strength. And yes, our Land Cruiser still has bukole. Actually, it has “bukole bua bunyi!” (a lot of strength). And here in Congo, muscular motor power is important, especially when you are stuck in a mud hole or are entrenched in sand, and you need more juice than Jose Canseco ever pumped into his body. Thus, for this reason and because I have respect for our Land Cruiser, I defend “Tshikunda” despite the obvious mechanical difficulties that are impeding our important errand.
In Tshiluba ‘Tshikunda’ means “older woman.” It is the name we have given our Land Cruiser. She has racked up close to 60,000 kilometers on roads that simply kill the best all-terrain vehicles. She has dents all over, and parts seem to regularly fall off, or fall into disrepair. We are regularly at the shop, getting her prepared for the next trip. We have become friends with our mechanic, which means we see him a lot! Despite all these challenges, Tshikunda keeps trucking along, faithfully delivering us to the farthest edges of the two Kasai Provinces and beyond.
In the Star Wars trilogy, Han Solo tenaciously defends the reputation of his spaceship, the Millennium Falcon. Princess Leia, when she first lays eyes on it, openly mocks “that old tin can.” Solo argues that she is the fastest in the galaxy, has more to her than her battered appearance suggests, and trusts her to get him out of seemingly impossible jams he perpetually finds himself in. His relationship with the Millennium Falcon is nothing less than affectionate. My relationship with Tshikunda is beginning to mirror this relationship of Solo with the Millennium Falcon. It will be difficult to part with Tshikunda someday.
And what happened regarding our trip? Within the hour the troubles were fixed and we were on the road. Tshikunda delivered us 136 kilometers beyond, across the border into the Katanga Province. She also brought us safely home the following week, with a repair job needed in Mbuji-Mayi, before the last leg home. We estimated that we travelled 1,000 kilometers in eight days – not too shabby on Congo roads. I took her to the shop today and minimal repairs are needed. Praise God, and thank you Lord for Tshikunda!
Next trip in less than two weeks…