It's funny how sometimes, when a tough, out-of-the-ordinary task becomes routine, it takes just one, unexpected failure among regular successes to stop you in your tracks, to have you once again realize the enormity and impressiveness of the act.
Such was the case yesterday, when I was reminded once more of just how amazing TTL's outreach efforts are.
I was in the office, catching up on a number of things after being away, when I saw most of our outreach team through the front window, mulling around and loading up one of the cars. I opened the window to say hello to Matello, our outreach coordinator.
"Can you come with us?" she said.
At this point in my year here, I still go on outreach occasionally, but not when I'm swimming in office work, and I was a bit surprised at the request.
"Maybe," I said. "Why?"
"The Land Cruiser -- it's stuck."
Apparently, the day before, unbeknownst to me, one of our outreach teams had gotten TTL's gigantic and extremely powerful Toyota Land Cruiser -- a gift from UNICEF -- stuck in the mud past Malefiloane Clinic.
This shocked me.
I've been stuck in the mud in TTL's other cars, but never in the Cruiser. In the Cruiser, I've crossed through rivers; I've driven over boulders; I've off-roaded on mountain slopes; I've driven at inclines I never knew possible. In other words, in the Cruiser, mud is nothing.
"The Cruiser is stuck?"
"Yes," Matello said, "and you should come."
She explained that she and the other three Mokhotlong outreach workers, including our two male drivers, were all going in another TTL truck to try to pull the Cruiser out of the mud, but that they needed another driver so that one of the men could push from the outside while the two others drove. That other driver was me.
We set off through the mountains and I smiled as I took in their seasonal beauty. A crisscrossing pattern of peaks and valleys, turned green in the summer sun, shepherded mist clouds through their cracks.
"Is the Cruiser blocking the road?" I asked, suddenly curious as to whether there would be a line of angry people stuck on one side of the Cruiser or the other.
Silly me. I should have known better, really.
One of the outreach workers, Nthabeleng, who was sitting next to me, smiled, quickly showing in the expression that my question was irrelevant.
"No one drives there," she said.
About an hour after leaving TTL, we reached a particularly muddy stretch of the road, and there ahead I saw the Cruiser -- or, that is, I saw most of it. I laughed out loud.
We stopped and got out. The Cruiser looked as if it had been driving along the road when its front left wheel suddenly sunk a solid foot-and-a-half into the ground, its back left wheel sunk more than a foot, and its right wheels both sunk about half-a-foot.
The front left wheel was barely visible -- and these are big wheels. The Cruiser's major clearance was gone, mud up to the bottom of the car, with pools of muddy water collecting all around it, making the situation seem even more hopeless. When something like this can happen to a vehicle like the Land Cruiser, I thought, no wonder the old, battered taxi vans and the ancient trucks people drive don't come out here.
Just then, TTL's formidable presence in the surrounding mountains -- dotted with villages I know we have visited before and will visit again -- struck me on a deep level. We literally go where others can't and won't.
After a long process of tying the back of the Cruiser and the front of our other truck to a large, 4- or 5-foot metal tow bar, we all took our positions. I climbed through the mud into the driver's seat of the Cruiser. I felt there like I was in a boat, with the bottom half of my vessel submerged.
Both cars were started, and to my surprise, with the combination of both cars reversing -- the Cruiser's massive power still apparent despite being half sunk -- we got the Cruiser out of the mud. The herd boys milling around -- whose cows I thought we were going to have to recruit -- seemed impressed.
The drive back seemed quick. I spent it behind the wheel of the Cruiser, and as I drove up steep inclines, over rocks and through streams, I marveled once again at TTL's outreach program.
In my mind, it is only at the ends of the earth that the Cruiser would get stuck.
There we were. And there we will go again.