disaster

Ben Fell Down a Latrine

by Spencer

Kapoeta, South Sudan. Never mind that half the building was blown out and the walls were peppered with bullet holes, we were lounging in the restaurant to the town’s finest hotel and we were going to enjoy ourselves. A couple more beers, then we would camp in a local businessman’s backyard. Before we could leave though, a man wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt announced, “I am from the government. These two are my responsibility. Nothing bad will happen to them.” It was arranged that we would stay in the hotel. Awkward, but okay. Not okay, and way more awkward, two hours later Ben was at the bottom of a twenty foot hole screaming for help.

Keep in mind, this was the day we witnessed a truck shot out by bandits. This was the day we were guarded by soldiers wearing pouches full of banana clips. We were in deep, in South Sudan, the world’s newest and probably poorest country. There is no Flight for Life, there isn’t barely a hospital. If something goes really wrong, to put it bluntly, you’re just screwed, left adrift in a land devastated by fifty years of civil war.


the holeLuckily for Ben, things hadn’t gone really wrong, only fairly wrong. He had accidently fallen to the bottom of a 20ft hole, which, by the way, was a latrine. Meanwhile, Spencer was naked, taking a sponge bath in a tin shack, probably only 30ft away, as the worm crawls. Between Ben and Spencer was an overflowing latrine; the poo slush sloshed out, it smelled so much like poo, the whole situation just really really sh*ty, like it’s hard to imagine a situation to which the word could be more appropriate

Anyways, so Ben was yelling for help. Spencer was like, huh? But, regardless, snapped on some shorts and ran out, through the poo slush, barefoot, wondering how many AK wielding bandits he was up against. Ben? Ben?! Down here! Oh. He was so small. Slash, oh holy sh*t wow you’re at the bottom of a 20ft hole in Kapoeta, South Sudan.

Spencer didn’t know what to do. Get help. Run to a hotel attendant to say, “so my friend is at the bottom of a hole…” He didn’t get it. English comprehension too low. Try the restaurant. Be more frantic. Yellow Hawaiian floral print government dude is here. Let’s work this. Attention received, run back to Ben. He looks down the hole. Oh holy Jesus. Yuppers, oh holy Jesus.

The attendant swung into action and climbed down the hole to join Ben in the latrine. “What are you doing? Why are you coming down here! Don’t you have a rope?!” No, Ben didn’t want company in the latrine, he wanted to get out. As the hotel owner frantically apologized, the whole hotel gathered round to watch the white man get pulled out of the latrine . Eventually they found a rope. They got Ben out. Miraculously, he wasn’t hurt. Everything was okay. The government man even said so, “it is okay.” No one is going to get taken out back and beaten because they let the American walk into a 20ft hole. It’s okay. Everything’s okay. Everything’s okay.

It almost wasn’t. Ben fell 20ft and was unharmed. He was so lucky. If someone had left a shovel down there, if he had landed differently, it’s scary just to think about. How far away was appropriate medical care? How long before a serious infection would have consumed a limb? We put ourselves in that situation. Were we crazy?

At least a little. After I got them to Ben, after it was clear he was going to be okay, I ran to grab my camera. They were appalled. “You cannot be serious.” Nah, I wasn’t serious. I was practically giggling. This was too funny. Don’t get me wrong – I also was still shaking in terror from Ben’s screaming, the guns, the violent ambience that hung in that air. But deep within it’s like I wasn’t capable of grasping the seriousness of our situation. Ben would be okay. Bad things don’t happen.

I have never seen someone die. Not even a chicken. Death is so far removed from my life that even when it comes right up next to me I barely recognize it. If Ben had landed to bleed out, a cracked bone protruding, how scary it would have been. A frantic rush to find phone numbers we had lost, to make calls to the embassy in Kampala on a mobile phone that didn’t have service, to wait for a medvac to Nairobi at ten at night, with airstrips that have no capacity for night landings, when the road back to Juba was blocked by bandits.

“You cannot be serious,” they said again as I held up the camera. To all the people who told me I couldn’t, to the South African who said I’d end up a pile of bones, to all their seriousness, I reply simply, “yes I can.” That is who I am. I can do anything I want. Let me take out my phone, I have the facebook slideshow to prove it. That is the reality I know. I wonder how different I would be if Ben had landed just a bit different. I wonder in all of history how many have been so lucky to remain as blind, crazy and ignorant as me.

Two Wheels to Addis: The Journey Continues

by Spencer

This isn’t how I planned it. A month late and only four minutes long! We’ve met some incredible people. To the dozens who have helped us, thank you. As we continue down the road, we hope to share more stories of people like you.

The awesome music is the Jimenezi Hop, written by Tim Drinan, preformed / recorded by The Trolleys. http://www.thetrolleysband.com/

So Lucky, So Awkward

by Spencer

Serious bicyclists use “clipless” shoes and pedals. They lock your foot to the pedal, making the cycling more efficient. Previous to this trip, I had only used clipless pedals once. Figuring out how unlock myself (basically you click your heels outward, Wizard of Oz style) in downtown Johannesburg surrounded by dozens of unemployed drunks at dusk was an intimidating experience, especially as I keeled over a few times. (Watching white people fall is funny!) But that’s another story.

This story begins on the road to Mazabuka, where one of the screws that attaches the cleat to the bottom of my shoe came out, meaning I couldn’t detach my foot from the pedal. This makes stopping problematic. What to do?
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It Falls Apart (But It Could Be Worse)

by Spencer

Last week was disastrous. We were riding through Zimbabwe. It’s a poor country. People sit on the side of the road selling piles of bugs. There isn’t enough electricity to power the streetlights. Our destination was Bulawayo’s central business district, it was nighttime and I was tired. My hand hasn’t been quite right, after a few hours it tingles, then turns to pins and needles and then I loose all sensation. We went over these rumble strips; they knocked the bag with my laptop off my bicycle and I didn’t feel it. I realized it was gone a couple minutes later. I circled back but it was too late. We were in the dark suburbs of a large city next to a university. All the photos, video, notes, contact info and the two completed episodes of the past month were gone and would never come back.

When you lose a month’s work and a couple thousand dollars you pause. It’s that punch to the stomach where you’re consumed by regret, all you can think of are the couldve shouldves. I wish I had stopped bicycling before it got dark, when I could still feel my hand. I wish I had safetied the bag to the bicycle. I wish I had backed up my work and mailed it home. I spent a week questioning why I was here, my competency, whether or not I’m even half capable of completing what I set off to do. It has been a journey of bad to worse.

And yet, I was right about at least one thing. There is a story here. In one day I went from a lawyer’s office to a police station to a hospital (to get my stitches out) to continue onward to wake up in a new city. As they say in some places, it’s been real.

When I was frantically searching for my bag, a headlamp attached to my helmet flickering through night, a man pulled off the side road and asked if we were okay. I told him what happened. He invited to us his friend’s home and we all watched Championship League (soccer) over a hot meal. He told us how in his eyes Nelson Mandela was a sellout. He told us how yeah Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s 87 year old dictator, is, yeah, a real a**hole who burned Zim into the ground but he’s our a**hole dictator who you put in power so why do you kick us out of the Commonwealth and put up sanctions?

Getting different perspectives is big. So is human kindness. It’s worth fighting for. I considered going home. I considered compromising, continuing with the bicycling but no video. But I can’t. I’m not going give up. Not yet. I’m alive and well and there is a story here. People are amazing.

In the coming weeks expect a lot more posts. (And maybe actually a video!!) The journey continues.