Top Gear Challenge

Lisa and I were not particularly looking forward to today – on the itinerary it had ‘Travel up to the Northern Districts (Moçimboa da Praia) 7-8 hours by car on rough roads’.

As the Hollies sang, ‘the road is long’

Seven to eight hours on rough roads! I have to admit that I quite liked the bumpy roads – it was fun and made the journey more interesting. But over seven hours of it didn’t have quite the same appeal. Lisa on the other hand HATED the bumpy roads and was absolutely dreading it. Something told me that the town of Moçimboa da Praia would be welcoming a couple of battered, bruised and potentially grumpy English girls tonight!

As Area Co-ordinators we spend a lot of time travelling across our areas (me in the SW, Lisa in the SE) and we have become very familiar with our cars. With their diesel engines perfect for the high mileage and their large boots suitable for stuffing full of TLM literature and resources, and in my case a large, spotty dog! They are ideal for The Leprosy Mission business on the roads of England. They would however have been useless on the roads between Pemba and Moçimboa da Praia. Here the TLM staff all have 4×4 trucks which can get over the bumps and out of the ditches with relative ease. These trucks don’t seem to mind when the tarmac runs out and the road cracks and breaks before them.

As I was being slammed against the door for what seemed like the millionth time and as I considered how likely it was to break bones just sitting in the back of a truck, I realised two things. (Lisa was trying the ‘I’m asleep so I can’t be conscious of the bumps’ method of coping with the journey!) Firstly I realised the importance of infrastructure. As I said I spend a lot of time travelling on roads, which in the main are smooth and easy to drive on. We have public transport and we can get across the country with relative ease. In Mozambique the roads are bumpy and largely unmetalled. To get anywhere takes a lot of time and if you don’t have a car – which of course most people don’t have, then it is either a very long walk or you need to find someone with a bicycle. This is not only difficult for those who live in rural areas, but also for those, like TLM who need to get to them. It poses all sorts of challenges and makes life incredibly difficult and costly.

Tiago, our amazing driver, and the perfectly suited TLM truck

The second thing I realised is that you need the right car for the right road. Programmes like Top Gear spend a lot of time telling us which cars are cool and which we shouldn’t touch with a barge pole. But in Mozambique what colour your car is, what additional features it comes with, what model or registration it is matters not. The only things that matter are whether it goes and if the suspension still works! Personally, as I once again slam into the door, banging my head in the process, I am glad that I am not in a brand new sports car which looks amazing on the forecourt, but that I am in an old but reliable truck which is perfectly suited to the road before me. I hope that I also manage to choose the right vehicle perfectly suited to my life journey, rather than the shiny new one recommended by people on TV who don’t know the roads I will have to travel.