The Road Branches

When I see a branch in the road I know I need to pay attention.

If a truck has broken down, the driver will place branches at the side of the road 100 metres behind and ahead of the vehicle. The driver might be trying to change a flat tyre or could be lying under the vehicle doing some repairs, so I slow down.

If there is a huge crater in the road, a large upright branch stuck in it will alert other road users. If there is a track in the bush with a large branch across it, it means that the track is impassable ahead.

I saw a series of branches laid in the road on my way home and assumed it meant that there had been a death in the locality. Etiquette states that you switch on the hazard warning lights and slow down, passing the home of the recently deceased person in first gear. This is what I did in this situation until I realised that there were no homes in the vicinity. The branches were actually marking potholes which had just been filled with a mixture of crushed bricks and cement. The road menders didn’t want people to drive over the wet cement mixture.

This is a deep pothole with a branch that’s lost its leaves

This set up a slalom where drivers were weaving around the branches while avoiding oncoming traffic. I am not sure how long the makeshift repairs to the tarmac will last.

This vegetation in the road is water hyacinth and “cabbage” which has been dragged across the road by a hippopotamus. Hippos move out of the lagoons and eat grass at night. They are such lumbering beasts that they drag water plants with them for part of the journey. You can see their pathways better in the dry season as two parallel tracks, a hippo belly width apart, worn into the dried vegetation.

There was a major road building project in 2016 when I was last in the Valley. A perfectly good tarmac road from colonial days was widened, which involved the destruction of many mature trees at the edges of the road. The money ran out before the road builders could tackle the most appalling part of the road in the villages of Cropping and Kakumbi. There is no tarmac on this stretch of dual carriageway (potholed, muddy road to hell) crossing the Matanje River. Both roads are bone-jarring, cratered tracks, but the road going west is worst. Ignoring the Highway Code, many drivers use the east bound carriageway to go west. Both tracks are wide enough for this (apart from on the bridges) but the situation is complicated by the tortuous route drivers take to avoid the suspension-crunching crevasses and deep puddles. One might swerve into the “outside lane” (there are no actual lanes) and find oneself heading directly towards an oncoming vehicle avoiding the same obstacle.

Matanje River
This is the road to the health centre after a dry spell

The side street which leads to the health centre is a succession of muddy pools, each with a resident family of ducks and ducklings. In an attempt to avoid vehicles getting stuck in the mud, people have laid down grass stalks and foliage on the road. This is now beginning to rot and gives off an awful stench as you drive over it. Coupled with the stink of burning plastic at the health centre, it reminds me of the scene in Apocalypse Now, where the US Airborne Cavalry commander proclaims how much he enjoys the stench of napalm, “It smells of … victory.”  My thoughts exactly when I reach the clinic without having been bogged down in the mire.

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Published by Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, resigned from the UK NHS in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas.

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