Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mud and Coffee, but Mostly Mud

The tire exploded without warning. We jerked forward in our seats and clapped our hands over our ears, looking back to see shreds of rubber strewn across the road behind us. The bus lurched and dragged, but its seven remaining tires pulled it steadily to a tire shop that was just a hundred yards away. In retrospect, this could safely be described as foreshadowing.

Our class was on another long weekend trip, this time to a more rural part of Honduras to learn about coffee and microfinance. Even with a new tire, it was tough going, especially when the paved road ended. But downhill is always easier than going back up…

Over the weekend, we spent two days and two nights climbing through coffee fields in the rain, meeting coffee farmers in the rain, and learning about microfinance… in the rain. It was a great trip, but I had to buy cheap rubber boots just to get around.

The morning we left didn’t bode well. The air was still damp, and my friend Bethany was miserably sick. She curled up in the back with a blanket and pillow, and we jolted down the soupy roads; Carlos, the driver, trying not to make her bounce too much.

We crept along until a hill that had seemed inconsequential when we’d arrived stopped us in our tracks. Carlos gunned the engine and sped up as fast as the heavy bus could go, but the tires started spinning and we slipped backwards.

A handful of men and boys who lived nearby came out to watch. “Every bus gets stuck on this hill,” they told us. We started to climb out to observe the damage. The wheels spun helplessly, flinging mud onto our clothes and hair.

What else could we do? We all pitched in. The onlookers, too, joined us in finding sticks and stones from the side of the road and throwing them under the tires, hoping that the traction would be enough to get us up. We made an assembly line, throwing muddy rocks from hand to hand and dropping them in the path of the bus. It started to rain again.

We tried pushing the bus; we tried pulling it. A pick-up truck tried to tow us, but the thin rope it used nearly snapped. Carlos revved the engine over and over, but each time one wheel caught for a moment on the rocks or twigs, the others would mire down again.

Soon a large, empty delivery truck came up behind us, waiting for its turn to attempt the hill. This truck wasn’t heavy enough for its wheels to catch, so we all climbed onto the back. The rain was light, but it was enough to smear the mud that coated us and stick our hair to our faces. We jumped up and down together on the back of the truck, the smell of burning rubber in the air as the tires spun around and around in place.

I’m from the suburbs. As we jumped up and down on the back of the battered truck, and I looked out over hill and the distant coffee farms and the dripping-wet banana trees, I laughed at how very different the world can be from what I’m used to.

Finally, with the help of the rocks strewn in the road and our weight balancing the back, the tires of the truck turned and the truck lurched and it shot up the muddy hill. We all screamed victory.

Energized, we put our shoulders to the back of our own bus one last time. We threw more rocks underneath the wheels and backed out of the way as the engine roared and finally propelled the bus up the hill and around the muddy corner. With mud caking our hands and our rubber boots, we climbed aboard and sat down ready for our next adventure.

Bethany lifted her head up wearily from the back seat. In the rain and mud and madness, I had forgotten she was sick, forgotten that throughout all the jolts and bumps and failed attempts, she’d been wrapped up in the back seat.

“How was it?” we all asked her.

“Well,” she said, already sounding better, “I was sleeping through a lot of it.”

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