Today I turned 25. It was definitely a memorable birthday.
Namely, I spent a few hours this morning trudging through deep mud and heavy rain in an extremely remote village, anxiously asking various herd boys if I could borrow their cows to help pull my truck off the muddy mountain slope where it was stuck.
It all started this morning, when Matello, our outreach coordinator, and I set off to a village in the Mateanong region of Mokhotlong to drop a special TTL client back at home.
Retselisitsoe has a cleft palate, and TTL has remained in touch with her over the years -- even though she doesn't need our normal means of support anymore --while trying to figure out a way to help her receive surgery. We recently began working more closely with Operation Smile and the Smile Foundation, and they helped facilitate a meeting with a doctor in Maseru on Monday for Retselisitsoe and another TTL client with a cleft lip.
Retselisitsoe had a few rotten teeth pulled, will heal for a month, and then will go back to Maseru to have her surgery, while TTL's other client will likely go to South Africa for her procedure in coming months.
The ride to Retselisitsoe's home, amidst the lasting rain clouds that had first arrived over Mokhotlong the night before, was gorgeous -- but treacherous. Mountainside villages poked out of the heavy, low-lying clouds we drove through, the yellow thatched roofing of the rondavals accenting the lime-green, grassy newness of Spring. The road, cut deeply with crisscrossing rivulets and larger streams as well, was bumpy.
I approached particularly muddy patches like a shortstop sliding into home, gaining a bit of speed before leaning back to cruise through.
Just after turning off the main dirt road onto a smaller path leading up the mountain to Retselisitsoe's village, the truck literally began sinking into the ground -- the same ground that two days prior had been flat and dry. Despite the four-wheel drive, I couldn't back up. I inched forward by maneuvering the wheel left and right and tapping the gas, then turned slowly off the side of the road onto a large patch of grass that I thought would allow me to turn around. The truck sunk deeper. It was all mud. We were stuck.
I looked at Matello, she looked back, and I said, "I don't know what to do."
The words sounded silly in my head, and I forced myself to take a deep breath, gather myself and think.
"Let's take Retselisitsoe home," I said. "Then we can try to borrow some cows to get us out."
We hiked the rest of the way, about 20 minutes, to her rondaval, where her grandmother met us with thanks. The going was muddy and wet, and we all kept sliding a few inches on the soles of our feet with each new step. I took off my baseball cap and put it on Retselisitsoe's bare head, and she looked up at me from under the brim.
Her getting surgery is worth all of this, I thought. One thing at a time.
While her grandmother went to talk to the village chief about helping us get our truck out of the mud, Matello and I sat in the rondaval quietly. I looked over at her, and pulled my chin out of my palms long enough to say, "It's my birthday."
Matello looked surprised, and then we both laughed at the humor involved.
Retselisitsoe's grandmother returned, and said the chief was sending some men to help. I didn't think manpower was going to work. I thought cows were definitely our only option.
Along the hike back to the car, we kept asking people about cows, with no luck. Just up the hill from the truck, Matello yelled to some herd boys. They pointed to where the cows large enough to pull a truck were, and I spotted them -- like ants on a distant mountain slope.
Still, the boys came to help themselves, joining us and the men the chief had sent. Eventually, there were a total of four men and four boys at the truck with us.
They pushed as I tapped and played with the gas pedal. They maneuvered rocks under the wheels, in different positions as the truck spun around. Finally it was back on the road.
We made it back to TTL about an hour and a half later. I was muddy and thankful to be home.
What a birthday, I thought. And worth every muddy step.