What you can learn from getting stuck in the mud...

life stories stories from the journey story as the map Dec 23, 2023

I've often found that the things truly worth experiencing challenge you to see if you are really committed. That happened to us in my last week in Africa, on the way to Mana Pools -- a UNESCO Heritage site which is a haven to all kinds of wild animals. 

Mana Pools is in the north of Zimbabwe on the Zambezi River bordering Zambia. Driving there felt like being in an off-road rally. Not only were there plenty of trucks taking up a road that varied in size from two lanes to less than one, but also road edges that appeared as if termites had carried them off and potholes so big you could lose a small car in them.

In the end, it was all worth it, arriving to our lodge at the banks of the Zambezi and taking in elephants and hippos grazing. Seeing elephants in their natural habitat has been on the list for me for some time. They are such majestic -- and huge! -- creatures, moving delicately without a sound. We went out every sunrise and sunset looking for what nature offered us.

PICTURE 1: The view from our lodge on the Zambezi. PICTURE 2: What a wonder to see the majesty of elephants. Such an enormous animal and SO quiet! PICTURE 3: Small car can't do what the big truck can do. Even this pushing team couldn't shift it! PICTURE 4: Intrepid road warriors at the stuck moment. PICTURE 5: Reward on the final morning -- lions!

But here's the story I want to share with you -- a real metaphor for the kind of work I do around participatory process.

Eleven of us travelled in one Toyota truck and a small Nissan car. Some of us had been there many times and many of us were there for the first time. The tracks through Mana Pools offered a wide mix of ruts, potholes and mud, making driving there sometimes a real adrenaline experience.

The truck took the lead, easily navigating every part of the road, even the muddy bits. The the car followed along behind.

Even though we made a valiant and confident effort to drive straight through the bog on the second day, all of a sudden we were stuck. Even pushing didn't budge the car. The wheels were just aimlessly spinning. We needed help.

The truck tried to help us out of the mud, but when they pulled out what they had, we found out it was a rope borrowed from the local thatcher. It broke immediately. The truck was forced to go off and ask for help elsewhere.

They returned with a proper tow rope and the car was free within minutes.

The moral of this story? 

  • Our little Nissan was plucky -- longing to be a big truck -- but sometimes, simply plunging in is not the best thing. It is like learning a new skill and then immediately trying it out in front of a challenging audience with no prior experience. Oops!
  • That makes it all the more valuable to not go it alone. Having a buddy along means you have more resources and can get yourself unstuck more easily, especially if you remember to ask for help.
  • And when you DO get stuck -- because life will always offer challenges -- having someone to turn to who has had more experience-- or even different experience -- is a real gift. In fact the seasoned practitioner brings the gift of experience and the beginner brings a fresh perspective. Together we can see more, do more and be more.

A big THANK YOU to all the people of Kufunda Village and especially Maaianne Knuth for her vision, courage and commitment to learning in all its forms. And to all my brilliant travel and practice companions!

Isn't it time to have a brilliant ally on your side?

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