At Jackson's request we left Juba at 6 AM. A little traumatized from our journey into South Sudan, he was anxious to complete the drive home as soon as possible. We boarded our station wagon steed in the dark, and rattled our way along the white highway as the sun molded into a hazy orange band through the dust clouds. Running low on Sudanese pounds, we tried to fill up on just enough fuel to make it across the border, where our Schillings could finance the rest of the way home. At the Sudanese immigration office, however, we got reports that the town on the other side didn't have petrol stations. So we would have to exchange more cash for pounds and find fuel on this end of the frontier.
A friend recently told me, "In Africa, you don't need money, you just need time. Nothing comes easy here." 30 minutes of bargaining with the currency exchange men on the side of the road led to a fair rate. With local money in hand, we drove to the first gas station down from the immigration office. No fuel. The second station. No fuel. Third station. No fuel. Half way back to the hills, we spotted gas tankers near a tin shed off the main thoroughfare in town. No pumps were in sight, just some boda bodas with funnels sticking out of their sides and a man pouring a dark fluid out of a Jerrycan into their bellies. Reading between the lines, we quenched our thirsty Toyota and then made our way into the no man's land between the border checkpoints.
Back on the red road of Uganda, the ride got bumpier. Still several kilometers from the immigration office, Jackson got spooked by a motorcycle driving towards our station wagon and veered off the road. Heading into a ditch, the car fastened to a boulder. The Gods of the dirt highway continued to loathe us. I'm not sure which one of my fellow travelers recently littered or openly cursed the rutted road, but either way, we were paying for some Odyssian offense. And like the Greek sailor, we refused to be subdued for unknown sins. So with the help of a young boy armed with a machete, we dug out the boulder and set out to sea again.
With Gulu only a hundred kilometers away, safety seemed within our reach, that is if our Toyota's right rear tire didn't fall off. At this point, I was sitting in the backseat, and occasionally out of the corner of my eye, I would see Jackson scrunch up his face and give it a shake. I remember thinking it was a peculiar routine, but he probably was just irritated by all the dust coming through the window or maybe he got struck by some stray bug. Only after dodging death by a tree did we discover that our driver was falling asleep. Margriet happened to be filming at the time and caught everything on tape: (http://vimeo.com/18989427).
In the end, destiny demanded that one of us finish what we started. Bjorn had spent 4 months as a driver for a dental services van in Berlin, so we elected him captain. I signed up for pothole patrol. While Bjorn navigated the dusty ridges of the decrepit highway, I would shout out "Pothole left." "Pothole right." "Pothole middle." The German's vehicular virtuosity carried us back to the Acholi Ber, and brought our weekend road trip to a close. Safe and sound, with the 4x4 repaired, it's back to work.