I would consider myself a very risky person. I like to live on the edge and do crazy things. Skydive, rock climb… you know me!
BUT when I lead people I instantly turn into a safety conscious, mother hen, hyper protective person. I will not allow anyone to take any unnecessary risks because I don’t want to be the one making the phone call home to parents explaining what went wrong!
We are well covered, sometimes overcautiously covered with our risk procedures… We have necessary precautions such as taking anti-malarials in malaria endemic regions, but not all are that essential… some of the most ridiculous rules include showering daily, yes, we need a rule for that. Apparently not everybody believes in daily showers…
But there’s also a good list of needed rules that many people dislike… like having to wear a life jacket at all times when travelling on water. No dugout travels under any circumstances. Dugout canoes are pretty much a dug out tree trunk, highly unstable and requiring the help of a highly experienced operator to avoid capsizing… No walking in water in potential crocodile habitat. And the list goes on. . . .
Now there comes a time where a good leader has to make the hard decision and sometimes breach rules. One of those days might have happened on outreach. We refer to it as the “Day that NEVER happened”!
We were in an extremely remote village of Western Province, it had taken us 2 hours to get there from the ship and our dinghy operator told us he’d come back for 4pm.
We had radio communications back to the dinghy for about 30 minutes then it was out of reach. Sure we had a satellite phone, but that could only reach the ship.
We were done with clinic at 1pm! We connected with the village and walked around, played games, learnt from the mamas… we were ready to go. 4pm came around and no trace of our dinghy!
I tried the radio… nothing. I had someone climb on top of a house to hang our antena higher… oops! No climbing! We received a signal! Our driver was stuck in a mud bank! It was low tide.
He unstuck himself and finally arrived to our village. Except he didn’t quite get to our village! He was about 1km away from the village, stuck in mud, it’s low tide! A bit of discussion back and forth brought us to the conclusion that the tide wouldn’t be high enough to get the dinghy into the village until 10pm! Time at which the sea would be quite rough!
So I used the little amount of language I had in common with the villagers to inquire about a way to get to the dinghy. They never replied to me… but the men started moving and talking to one another… and soon enough they were tying together 2 dugouts with pieces of wood/bark as seats and bush material weaved ropes.. oops! We had heaps of gear, (medical backpacks, radio, eski…) 9 people, which might have made the dugouts overloaded and sink in quite low… oh and oops! No life jackets! But what choice did we have!? We can’t camp out, we can’t wait for the tide and we can’t do nothing!
We got helped down the slippery log and into the dugouts, they loaded all our gear and two men paddled us out of the creek and towards our dinghy. We kept direction according to the locals in the deeper part of the channel, but unfortunately, even the deepest part was too shallow. Our friends jumped out of the dinghy into the crocodile infested water to pull us through the clay-like mud towards our dinghy. They pulled hard and fast. But we didn’t quite make it. by the time we got to our dinghy, and put our still dry gear safely onboard, our dinghy was well stuck in mud! So here comes the call I would have never made… our dinghy operator called “everybody in, let’s pull this dinghy into deep water!” as a marine professional he gets to call the shots, I call them in the clinic.
I prayed really hard that the crocodiles would stay very far away and that we’d be able to pull our dinghy out into the deep, get onboard and safely return to ship before the night falls and the water gets rough!
This is the day that we know as the day that never happened!