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11.18.2010

Providence, Burundi


Previous Milagro post here

The lesson of the day had been from the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear; your Father in Heaven knows what you need.”  I had listened to student testimonies of provision. One student spoke of being at boarding school with no pocket money when the whole school went on short rations of one meal a day with no meat or veggies due to a budget shortfall. That is what African boarding schools do - short of money? Stop feeding the students.  Hungry, the student said that she walked into a nearby vacant lot and found that it was abundant in wild cucumbers. God is Good.

Teacher had a different need that day. Milagro the Moto had become increasingly difficult to start. It had taken 37 kicks to get her going the morning in question. I had taken her in to Miracle Motors for a check-up, and the young mechanic had declared her fit and Mr. Muni Raju had taken pains to re-educate me about the kick-start process. The starting problem was declared to be mine. I disagreed. I had borrowed younger male legs, and I had borrowed experienced moto legs and they had no better luck than I. Mr. Raju respectfully suggested that my femininity was a problem. I almost respectfully asked Mr. Raju to demonstrate starting the bike with his male bits, but thought better of it. I pointed out that the bike was idling very low. Mr. Raju agreed with this, but told me that I should just ride with the choke on all the time. I knew this was bad advice, and that I was fouling the plugs enough as it was, and she was still stalling at stops on a regular basis. And in Buja, every time she stalled, I had an immediate throng of amateur mechanics and riders offering me advice in Kirundi, often all but pushing my feminine self off the bike to show me how it was done. This was irritating. I needed a second opinion, I assessed my limited resources.

On the day I had acquired Milagro a man had walked through Miracle Motors and introduced himself to me. Kenny Johnson was a Burundian born son of Plymouth Brethren Missionaries. A sturdy, kind looking man a few years my senior, he was an owner and restorer of a stable of vintage bikes. We discovered that we had F/friends in common and he graced me that day with a small, battery powered, blinking light to add to the moto for extra visibility. He also told me on that first day to look him up if I had any problems. “Just ask about, everyone knows where Kenny Johnson lives!”

Three weeks later I desperately wanted to have a motorcycle chat with someone knowledgeable and neutral. I especially wanted to have this chat with someone who did not consider it to be an abomination against God or the gods for me to sit my female self on such a machine.

After class, I started asking about, and soon had a phone number for Mr. Johnson. He was home, and we were welcome to stop by. We were warmly received by Ken and his assistant Deo. They had a truly fine and complete motorcycle repair shop. We took her apart. The idle and the idle mix were both off. The plug was filthy from running so rich. Several bolts including the one holding the shift rocker pedal had been worked loose by the daily dirt bike track that was our neighborhood. And finally they discovered that the shift cable was slipping. All these things were adjusted. Every bolt tightened. Tire pressure adjusted. Ken test drove her. I started her with the crew watching. She started on kick number 2 - good enough. 

I expressed my profound gratitude and started to make ready to excuse myself. In the African milieu leaving is a protracted process. Then Ken’s wife Meli invited us to eat lunch with them and their family of 10 adopted children. Dani looked at me imploringly. I accepted for both of us, and we washed hands with the little kids and were seated at the head of the main table. The fish and chips were hot and tasty Lake Tanganyika Sangala. The vegetable salad was dressed with a rich cheese sauce. The conversation was delightful. The household was peaceful and happy and busy. We were deeply blessed. After seconds, the dishes were cleared and I started to make noises about leaving again. Meli said “What about a piece of chocolate cake and a cup of coffee?” I had been on simple Burundian rations for a month. I almost wept. Dani laughed and accepted for me. When the last molecule of cake was gone, we both expressed deep appreciation again.

Then Mr. Ken Johnson brought out two lime green fluorescent safety vests. Mr. Ken Johnson is a great believer in Safety. Dani and I met eyes and smiled, fashionistas the both of us, we knew we were wearing our new coats home. We donned our gear with as much dignity as green fluorescent allows. More gratitude and a walk out to the bike to discover that she had acquired two more blinking lights taped on with green fluorescent tape to her front. Deo grinned. Mr. Ken Johnson was pleased. One of the little boys said “You look like the president’s escort!” and so we did. The escort of some president in a doctor Seuss story. More admiration and gratitude and then Milagro leapt to a run and we drove home. The stares and gestures of the last few weeks were raised by a magnitude of ten. We were officially a spectacle. I was about half way home when I started laughing. Dressed and fed and cared for by the grace of God, for our wellbeing and joy. Visible like a City on the Hill. Letting our Lights shine. So visible that Dani’s comment upon disembarking was “Well, if they kill us now on the road, it will be Murder!”

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