MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, UGANDA—As the smoke from my car’s engine began to envelop me, for a moment I couldn’t even see the dashboard, let alone the opportunity that this latest vehicular calamity would offer my wife to give a little bit of herself to some needy kids.
My wife Barbara and son Alex and I were on our way to Fort Portal in Western Uganda when the smoke began to waft over us. Our driver Tabu screeched the car to a halt along the side of the road, and I screamed at my family to quickly abandon ship. Tabu sprung out of the car, and miraculously extinguished the flames that were dancing on several engine wires.
I was red with rage. This car, a “Mitsubishi Lemon”, has broken down 73,908 times since I bought it in June, leaving me stranded all over the country. In no particular order, this Lemon’s maladies have included flat and leaky tires, a bad starter, hose issues, a leaky gas tank, a broken oil pump which led to a nearly melted engine, gear box maladies, and now a fizzled electrical system. (Not being a complete idiot, I did have a “mechanic” examine the car before I bought it. This “mechanic” might have been in cahoots with the seller. Or, perhaps he was just comically, criminally incompetent.)
As we lay wounded about 45 minutes from our destination, I pounded the car seat with my fist and shouted a variety of unimaginative obscenities. Barbara and Alex wisely maneuvered out of my path and strolled over to the side of the road, where they began chatting with several dozen people who ambled by while we were stranded. Barbara good-naturedly complimented the ladies on their beautiful, colorful dresses and on their adorable children while Alex smiled and nodded, content to let mom do the talking this time.
About the time the mechanic arrived to take a look at my Lemon, Barbara asked me if it would be okay if she gave chocolates to four skinny kids who were by the roadside staring at our pathetic, broken down spectacle. I told her sure, knowing that Barbara would get a bigger kick out of the transaction than the kids. The hungry-looking youngsters smiled weakly as Barbara carefully handed each a square, dark chocolate. She chatted with the kids, clad in threadbare t-shirts, trying to ascertain their life stories and spread a little sunshine. A few minutes later, Barbara said she would sleep well knowing that she made the kids’ day by giving them some chocolates. If anyone else had uttered these sappy words, I might have rolled my eyes and made that scoffing noise. However, coming from Barbara, I know these were sincere thoughts.
On our way back to Kampala, after a second electrical breakdown and another obscene tirade, we managed to get the car back to Fort Portal, where we were able to hire a mechanic who had actually worked on a car before. While the mechanic did his magic, a skinny young boy, maybe 8 or 9, walked into the office where we were waiting, and requested a pen and paper to write out a message. His name was Turee. Barefoot, dirty, and mute due to a physical defect, Turee scribbled out a request for food. It was easy to see that he needed it. Barbara gave him all the food we had--a candy bar and a half-consumed soda. Turee scarfed them in a minute or so. Had we been thinking, we would have marched him to the nearest grocery store and bought him a sack full of food.
As Turee finished his snack, Barbara attempted to communicate with him. This was difficult because he’s mute and because he didn’t know English. Still, Barbara got her message across with smiles and with pantomime—pointing to her heart then pointing to his. The tears streaming across Barbara’s face as Turee left were both predictable and understandable.
I was proud of Barbara and her compassion for Turee and the roadway kids, and I won’t forget the lesson she taught me about seizing every opportunity, even if those opportunities initially seem like disasters. As long as we have a chance to share the many gifts we’ve been given (chocolate or otherwise), it doesn’t matter if we’re stuck with a Lemon. Today, Barbara reminded me how to make lemonade.