Monday morning, Sampson’s brother said their Mum, Joy, had rallied a little after a blood transfusion, so we were just praying for a little time to get across the border and make a plan. We were at M + Z Motors in Ondangwa by 7am, and they very quickly adjusted handbrake settings that no one else had yet addressed and allowed us to powerwash spilt cooking oil off the roof. Generous branch manager Robert Dedig (who very kindly didn’t charge us) warned us that queues at the border sometimes mean the crossing can take days, so we set off urgently.
Sampson felt a bit better after a tearful phonecall with Joy, where he told her how if it wasn’t for what she and Reg had taught him, and the example of their adventurous spirit, he wouldn’t be here now, pursuing our dream.
We reached the border post at Oshikango about 11 and the crossing was surprisingly straightforward. There was one sweaty moment when the Namibian official said she couldn’t stamp us out on our SA passports (which we’d had to enter Namibia on as the SA official said it was illegal for us to exit SA on any other passport) if our Angolan visas were in our UK passports (which we’d had to apply for visas with as Home Affairs had made a mistake with Ruby’s SA passport and we didn’t receive it until the week before we left). Thankfully, once we waved our official endorsement letter from the Dept of Arts and Culture, she solved it by stamping them both. Phew.
The Angolan side of the border was more chaotic because of major building work underway. There weren’t any signs to tell you where to go, but several would-be guides. One very, very drunk feller walked ahead of us for the rest of the day gesticulating, but we steadfastly and politely ignored him. The children are learning fast. We stood for hour or so waiting in the queue to process passports with some lovely church ladies from Botswana, and received a stamp almost impossible to read, but there was nothing else to complain about. It took Sampson another couple of hours to sort out road tax, but we were all done by 4.30pm. Luckily the kids were having a ‘we’re keen to do schoolwork’ day and so we ploughed through all our subjects to get ahead so they can have some days off around Ruby’s birthday.
Angola felt immediately hotter, the dust was whiter and thicker, and a larger proportion of people seemed to be wearing a gorgeous fuchsia pink. I’m afraid I was too worried about Joy to take photos. Santa Clara is a busy border town, with many small businesses thriving on either side of the road. Sampson was grappling with driving on the right as we came out onto a roundabout. The first 100m was appalling – more pothole than tar, and he was getting worried about the oil sloshing about in containers on the roof – when suddenly we were on a brand new highway complete with hard shoulders, smoother than anything in Namibia! Half an hour down the road, we found a quiet place to pull over for the night.
Yesterday, we reached the first big town, Ondjiva, midmorning. We did school while Sampson missioned to get a SIM card. The price was ten times what it was in Nambia – now I understand the many pedestrians in border queues who go over just to get a bag of shopping. Immediately Mark received an SMS from his brother Paul saying their Mum was worse and near the end. They spoke and we all cried. We sat and considered whether it was possible to fly to Luanda from here and then to UK. Mark missioned to get another SIM for data to get online and find out, but was told all internet was down until tonight.
Just as we got back to the truck, Paul called. Joy was gone. The last thing she said before they got the morphine pump going was ‘Why are you crying? You don’t need to cry!’
My mother-in-law was a helluva woman. She worked as a pharmacist in her youth, which is where Sampson gets his science chops from. She waited 7 years to get pregnant, and fostered 14 children, before her first baby died at birth. She knew about patience and fortitude. They built their house themselves and lived in a caravan on site when they first got married. She cared for three dying relatives in succession while bringing up two mischievous little boys next door to Reg’s garage, where he worked 12 hours a day. Farmer’s son Reg became obsessed by sailing, and began to build boats. He never learned to swim, but that never stopped him. When the boys were teenagers, the family sailed together all over the Mediterranean in the school holidays. Joy was proud to be a ‘proper job Cornish maid’; she baked like a demon and made the best pasties in the world. She loved her village community in St Newlyn East and we are so grateful that they are all rallying round Paul now, in the way she always did for everyone else in times of trouble.