‘Muzungu,! Muzungu!’ (White person) the children cried as we entered the village. ‘Rafiki!’ (friend) shouted a small boy, grinning as he ran to walk by my side. It was a warm welcome to our visit.
We had arrived in the village after a long journey over bad roads that became worse and worse until we were forced to get out and walk. This one road maintained by the mining company using it to access minerals further south had become a quagmire as heavy trucks tried to navigate parts of the road washed away by heavy rains.
Three fifty ton trucks were submerged in mud up to their axles. One driver had tried unsuccessfully to dig his petrol tanker out to no avail. We later saw his assistant building a fire not far off to cook his lunch, apparently unaware or uncaring of the danger close by.
An impassable stretch of the road lay before us, and with no prospect of getting our vehicle through any time soon loaded our backpacks onto our shoulders, hitched up our trouser legs and headed off into the swampy mud ahead.
Of course this was totally hilarious to those watching and waiting to get past the blockage in the road. There were sniggers as we slipped and lost our balance on the wet mud. A few took out their camera phones and took pictures. Oh the hilarity of the white people having to walk through the mud!
Once we had passed the trucks there were fewer onlookers and we even got smiles of sympathy as we began to wade through the water that now covered the road. Women carrying heavy loads on their heads nimbly passed us by, half-smiling as we hitched up our trousers over our knees and waded further into the mud.
A slippery and wet while later we emerged round the bend to find a vehicle and driver waiting for us, having travelled up from our destination to meet us. Relieved, we wrung out our socks and trouser legs and climbed into the back of the truck, trying to dry off and make ourselves presentable for meeting the village chief.
‘Rafiki!’ The boy shouted again. I smiled. ‘Asante’ (thanks) I replied.
The chief took no notice of our muddy feet as he happily showed us the bicycles that had been presented to the community workers in the village. ‘Asante’ he said, warmly shaking our hands as we left. He wished us safe travels, warning us the roads could bad this time of year. We exchanged knowing looks and climbed back into the vehicle, waving our farewells.