Why triumph? I don’t know, really. Today, I decided to write to title before the post. Apparently, “triumph” is my current state of mind, albeit with due cause. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had some major and minor victories which seem to have put me in a triumphant mood.
When Joseph (ex-volunteer at Ihungo) visited about a month ago, we discussed transportation around Bukoba. You see, my school is situation at the top of a fairly steep hill, overlooking the town and some five kilometers from it (Davis, five kilometers is still three miles; you stopped reading didn’t you, you fair-weather friend?). To walk to my school from town takes a little over an hour, taxis are outrageously expensive, and public transport is unscheduled and unreliable. Where does that leave those of us who are not only stingy, but also in a hurry? Velocipedes. Beautiful, 21-speed machines. Every volunteer is outfitted with a (mostly) new bike when installed at site, as my Trek 820 proves. I haven’t bought a bike since I was around 10, when I got some grey Japanese hybrid at a shop in Eugene. It’s been a comfort to have this Trek, though for a long time, I didn’t take advantage of it. You see, since my arrival at school, I’d been regaled with the legend of Joseph, Biker of the Gods. According to the tales, this man-beast was born with his feet clipped into pedals, and could bike across Lake Victoria if he so desired (he didn’t desire; too banal). For real though, I have heard the story about Joseph biking from here to Karagwe (some 120 kilometers distant) at least ten times. Let me tell you, being slammed with the exploits of another like that has one immediate effect- I stopped wanting to ride my bike after only a few weeks at site.
A year and a half passed, and then came my conversation with Joseph about getting around Bukoba. He told me it used to take him about 15 minutes to ride home from town and, more importantly, that he could bike the entire hill without stopping, wheezing, crying a little, and then falling over. By the time he told me this, I had attempted to bike up the hill, that sloped demon, only once. I stopped, wheezed, and I swear I never cried but I did fall over. Hearing his dismissal of the hill as “easy to climb” flipped the that’s-it-I’m-gonna-do-it-too switch in my brain, and I geared up for the challenge. Get it, “geared up”? That’s a joke. It’s funny because bikes have gears.
Since his departure, I have made the attempt to surmount this monster of a hill twice or three times a week. On two occasions, I’ve passed out from exertion. On others, when I arrive home, I flop onto my bed and lay inert for hours, too tired to do anything but stare at the American flag waving majestically in my window. On all occasions, I could not get past this one stretch that is like a 20-percent uphill grade for a kilometer; it was too steep, too long. Note I used past tense in that last sentence, and here comes the method behind the mayhem of my “Triumph” title- last week, I conquered that son of a bitch. I deserve to call the hill that, after being beaten by it so many times. Here’s how my victory came about: Jodi and I were hanging in town the other day, cruisin’ around on our bikes like a two-person gang (by definition, the smallest possible gang). We reached this one area with a bit of a climb, and I shifted down to 3/1. I asked Jodi what gear she was in, assuming she was rolling 3/1 also. She replied “1/1, and it feels like I’m just walking.” What’s this..? 1/1? In all my attempts of scaling the son of a bitch, I had never shifted below 3/1. I don’t know why, it just never occurred to me. The next time I reached that diabolically difficult stretch, I kept it at 3/1 until my quads exploded, then dropped down to 1/1. Ha-HA, hill! When I reached the apex and neared my house, I cheered wildly for myself in between ragged and desperate intakes of oxygen. Sweet satisfaction. Since that day, I have only had two other opportunities to try again. On one, I was in a state of minimal sobriety and I’m fairly certain that I was secreting vodka through my pores. I didn’t quite make it that day, and I do not recommend rigorous exercise after beer and vodka. The other time, I breezed up the hill in a solid twenty minutes. Rad.
Since I’ve already written a lot, I’ll try to be brief about my other triumph- climbing a tree. Don’t laugh, I’m scared of heights. Don’t laugh, lots of people have vertigo. I’d bungee jump, would you? Anyway, the rainy season is-a comin’ here in Bukoba, and if old hillbillies lived here, they would be in rocking chairs on the front porch talking about feeling in their bones the changin’ weather. So in a fit of unusual preparation and planning, I decided to clean my gutters. Recall, roughly 50-percent of the water I use is rainwater. Dirty gutters equals dirty water for washing, cooking, and bathing. I don’t have a ladder, and my roof is high (this seems to be a common trait of roofs). I had to get onto my roof to clean off all the leaves and debris, but how? Well, one of my big avocado trees has a branch which abuts the edge of the roof. I’ve seen students get up there when stealing my avocados. Again, that’s-it-I’m-gonna-do-it-too came into my mind. Having long arms is a blessing for climbing trees, but weighing 190 pounds is not. Halfway to the roof, the branch I was on started cracking. I performed a monkey-like swing grab onto a higher branch and dangled there, twenty-five feet up. Hand-over-hand I managed to secure the roof and drop to relative safety. Then I sat and trembled for a good ten minutes. Don’t laugh. Two hours later, I’d accumulated an enormous pile of dirt, leaves and fear. But mission accomplished, my gutters are now clean. I think the last time they were cleaned was during the days of German colonialism. That was another joke. This time, it’s funny because Germans colonized Tanzania over a hundred years ago. To descend from the roof, I had the opportunity to utilize all my lankiness and monkey skills. I crouched on the edge, stretched out one arm to its maximum, then leapt, soared, and grabbed a branch five feet away. It was terrifying. I wish someone would have been here to take a video, I’m sure it was the most awkward attempt to be agile, ever. Triumph.