“It is the Nile, isn’t it?”
I was close to two people who drowned on the Nile while we were here, both a little weird, and both a stones throw from where we were. A 24 year old went in the river at the top of the eddy at the NRE camp while we were ordering food at the bar there and had issues on the eddy line, swimming/bathing, not sure which, and went under only a few yards from a guy in a ducky. He never popped back up, until three days later in the same eddy.
Every day we trained at Super Hole there were at least 20 kids swimming quite proficiently in the class 2 rapids next to the hole, crossing eddy lines, and coming out to the island we were at. They were little water kids and were impressive swimmers. The river offers some of the best recreation imaginable for the locals, including bathing, and cooling off.
On Saturday we took our Mattatu like we always to, with Joseph, our driver to Super Hole. Joseph waits for us while we train, and watches over our stuff. He is supposed to wait at the van and watch our stuff as the van is parked on a hillside and there is plenty in it that we don’t want to lose and that other’s with less might want.
On this day Joseph decided he would bath in the nice eddy cove just above Super Hole.
We didn’t know he was doing that. We hire porters from the slew of orphans and kids that come watch us each day. We pay them $.04 each day, per kid that carries something back to the van for us after we take out. We made it 1/2 way back to the van when one of the kids ran up and kept telling me something about the river. I didn’t understand what he was saying, as English is a second language here. Finally, I got “your driver is dead” from the kid. Not sure what the deal was, I retrieved my paddle from my porter to use as a weapon in the case that there was trouble related to our driver. It became clear that they thought he drowned as they showed us his clothing and shoes on the rocks by the river. One of the kids saw him in the water and then disappear.
Our group of paddlers, Jessie, Nick, Emily, Clay, Stephen, Trevor, Dane, and I tried to make heads or tails of the story of the kids as in classic form, the skies started dumping heavy rain, thunder, and wind. For the first time in Africa, I was cold and shivering. A local guy, the only adult we could find, called the LC1 (local chairman 1) who came down to the river with Joseph’s phone, wallet, and the keys to the van. We were out in the rain and nobody having enough experience here to know what was going to happen next. Even though our driver was dead and we didn’t have the keys, we decided to load our boats on the roof to stage up and exit if that was going to be possible. Stories of friendly out of towners reporting an accident or death to the authorities and then getting detained until they pay a large sum of money to the sometimes corrupt government were common. At this moment, we knew we couldn’t do anything to help Joseph, and getting ourselves in a pickle wasn’t going to do anyone any good.
The LC1 showed up with Joseph’s stuff. He was holding it for Joseph while he bathed in the river, he said. The owner of the van, Robert, a friend of Jessie’s arrived and asked the LC1 for Joseph’s stuff. I asked Robert if Joseph could swim and he said no. I found out immediately after that Joseph was Robert’s brother and I wished I hadn’t asked him that as it didn’t occur to me that they were family. Robert was handling his brother’s death with a stoic demeanor.
Jessie asked Robert if she could drive everyone back to the Black Lantern where we were staying in the van. He agreed and gave her the keys. The LC1 and Robert were talking and more and more adults were arriving and all looking for quick answers. It looked to me like a good time to get out of Dodge. It was Emily’s 21st birthday and she was dealing with the situation by giving the local kids bananas. Many of the kids are orphans. One kid who had an abscess on his arm rode with us to Jessie’s clinic where we found out that his mother had recently died, and when he was treated Jessie found him HIV positive. Another boy lived in his house, but both parents were dead from Aids. When asked what he did to get food, he said “digging and carrying kayaks”. I made sure to hire 4 kids each day as it was clear that they REALLY wanted to earn money if possible. Our entire group hired kids each day and they really enjoyed swimming around while we paddle and hanging out. We got to know many by name and vice versa.
I told Emily to stop with the bananas and let’s go, now… Jessie got in and we closed the door and drove away, with another three vehicles that just arrived, each with three or more people getting out to inquire about what was going on. While it might have been fine to hang out, we got permission from the LC1 to go and took advantage of that was the window was open.
We collected a kitty when we got back to give to Robert (we hadn’t paid for the shuttle yet, since we normally pay Joseph when we get back from the river. Everyone was in a somber mood as Jessie drove the 15 miles/hour back from the river on the dirt road that is quite a mix of potholes, ruts, and puddles. We were driving away leaving our driver in the river, knowing he won’t appear again for a few days and may be hard to find in that section of river.
When I talked to Hannah, the owner of Nile Porch and Black Lantern (Bingo’s wife) her comment was “It is the Nile, isn’t it?” and while she was very bummed about Joseph, was just reflecting on the fact that a big whitewater river like this takes life as well as gives life.
Hannah had organized for all of us to go on a Jet boat ride here after paddling for Emily’s birthday but we were late for that, plus Emily really just wanted to chill out and warm up after the experience. Considering everything that happened, and her one long cry for the day on the way back from the river, she managed to make the best of her birthday that evening with a quiet dinner a the “Gately on the Nile” where she was able to get Pad Thai.
Life is something that can’t be taken for granted. Some of the cutest kids, that have big beautiful smiles, are friendly and happy, helpful and caring, are also victims of circumstance. One or two dead parents, suffering from illnesses themselves, such as the kid we brought to Jessie’s clinic. Yes, he has Aids, but I forgot to mention that he was also suffering from Malaria at that time. He was still there ready to carry a boat or gear and smiling and doing the best with what he has.
Appreciation for life, and what we have is something I learn best here, where there are people who make the best of things so dire in our eyes, that we rarely want to think about them. My dad always had a rule, “no arguing or complaining” . I have no tolerance for complaining and strive to never complain myself. To complain when our lives are so plentiful would be an insult to our own grasp of reality and our humanity.
I am very sad that Joseph died, while running shuttle for us, here in Africa. I am very happy to have known him, even if it was just seeing him try to jump up on the roof of the van before Dane, Stephen, or I to be helpful in loading boats, and his smiling, gentle, and caring demeanor. He helped us communicate with the kids each day and made sure they shared and were polite. Clearly one lesson to be learned is learn to swim, or stay out of the water. Laws that keep people from being able to swim in the river, like in DC on the Potomac enrage me like you wouldn’t believe. A free flowing river brings life, health, fun, and learning to us. It also must be treated with respect. Swim the rapids and enjoy the energy and be free if you are skilled to do so. Stay a full step back from the edge and watch in fear if you aren’t a good swimmer, as it has no mercy.
I am heading back home and wanted to share this story, in hopes of immortalizing Joseph, our dedicated shuttle driver.