The Gelli Driver

Transportation can be a bit of a hassle in this country. Being 11K off the road, even the best laid transportation plans can go awry. There’s one car (gelli-gelli) that goes to and from my village and another car that goes to and from the village over, so you have to call them and see if they’re going and at what time that day. Most of the drivers know me now (I’m hard to miss in my village) and will help me out if I call them.

A couple weeks ago, I was stuck on the road trying to get home. I had my bike but it would be too dark by the time I got all the way back, and the last time I did that my host mom yelled at me for being stupid and biking in the dark. I called Samba, the driver from a village over, and he came to get me. His son helps him collect the fares while he drives, and was excited to see me. “Mr. Ali! I’m ready for more computer classes this year! Microsoft Excel! Bar graph and pie chart!”

The car was full, so a few of us went on top (don’t tell Peace Corps, and Mom – it was very safe) and watched the sunset on the way home. I was too distracted by the sunset to notice the tree branch that came and hit me over the head, sending my sunglasses flying behind the car. I had gotten them for 50 Dhalasis ($1), so I wasn’t that concerned. Samba took me right to the door of my compound and made sure I got inside.

Last week, there was an announcement at our mosque that Samba’s wife had suddenly passed away. She was having stomach pains, called the ambulance and went to the clinic. They referred her to the major hospital in the region where they performed the surgery. She was pregnant and both her and the baby were lost during surgery. 

We called Samba after the announcement and could barely understand him through his tears. He said he went to pick up the body and they were having the burial immediately, as Islam decrees. 

A few days ago I went to his village to offer my condolences. Before I could even greet the family, Samba ran into his house to get something. “Ali! Your specks are here! We went back and found them!” They had literally gone back to that road and found my sunglasses. Remember that it was dark when they fell off and we were on a sandy road somewhere in the bush.
I didn’t really know what to say. These people had just had a terrible loss, and yet had to make sure I got my sunglasses back. I thanked them, said I was sorry for their loss, and they said it was God’s will.

Sometimes I get annoyed at small things here. It’s hot, my language learning is slow, there are bugs everywhere, and the overarching fear that my time here is limited and my work my not be sustainable. But sometimes these people just inspire the hell out of me. They’re strong and thoughtful and really very kind and I feel honored to be able to live here.

(P.s. We’ve been doing a lot of education in my area on Danger Signs in Pregnancy. I even painted a mural about it at the clinic. It’s important for pregnant women to understand warning signs and get to a clinic for their safety and the safety of their baby. Samba’s wife noticed a warning sign and got to a clinic. I don’t know if I believe it, but sometimes it may just be God’s will.)

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