The Meaning of a Phrase

It dawned on me a couple years ago that the meaning of “spiritual” had undergone a major shift. I go to Africa for a while, and when I come back things have changed, including the meaning of some words.  Those changes come as a shock.  But I can’t complain, because sometimes I change meaning myself. One day when I was traveling in Burkina Faso we changed the meaning of a phrase in order to find a bit of humor in a dangerous situation.

I had traveled to the far southwest of the country; to a beautiful area with rolling hills and wooded grasslands. It gets good rainfall and is full of orange and mango trees. While good for the tress, the rainfall was not good for the unpaved road. It was often in very bad condition, keeping the abundant fruit and other produce from getting to the rest of the country. In the market mangoes were almost free – the combination of abundant supply and little demand illustrating the law of supply and demand I had learned in high school economics. At one point we had even driven over a bed of mangoes someone had abandoned on the road!

At the end of my work, I was with a couple colleagues traveling back down this road toward home. As usual, there were no other vehicles on the road. At one point, the road goes over a bridge that spans a small ravine — the roadway of the bridge being perhaps 80 feet above the rocky and mostly-dry river bed. When it came into sight, we saw a man sitting in a chair beside the bridge. He got up, walked to the middle of the road and waved for us to stop.

When we rolled to a stop, the man said the strangest thing, “We would like you to drive over the bridge slowly”. (In a country with a literacy rate of less than 30%, it was apparently deemed ineffective to put up a road sign.) So we asked why. His response sent a chill down our spine, “A heavy truck went over the bridge yesterday causing the bridge to fall into the ravine. We brought out equipment which just pulled the bridge up and back into position. But no one has driven across the bridge since.”

We got out to look. The structural beams of the steel bridge were even more bent and deformed than usual. We decided that the TV ads were right – we needed a “designated driver”. With some other passengers I walked over the rickety bridge while our unfortunate designate slowly drove our good-sized 4×4 over the bridge. He was, perhaps, the most reluctant “designated driver” ever chosen by his peers.

I have been over a number of marginal bridges before or since, but none as scary as this one because of the height. Here are a few pictures including a satellite view of this bridge with a new paved road and new concrete bridge beside it.

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2 thoughts on “The Meaning of a Phrase

  1. Pingback: Tom Brown | Heart Language Observations

  2. Pingback: The Last Chapter | Heart Language

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