A few years ago, I was traveling by road in Chad. We were spending many hours bouncing down rough roads in a heavy-duty 4×4. At one point, we came to a ferry. Because the river was very low, there was a steep bank down to the ferry on our end and a steep bank up from the ferry on the opposite bank. It was a small ferry, holding only four vehicles. We arrived first so the loaded us first. We got out and stood near the car.
Next came a Peugeot 404 pickup overloaded with passengers and cargo. The driver stopped at the top of the grade and had the passengers disembark there. As he started down the bank he began going faster and faster until the engine was screaming in low gear. The penny dropped for everyone else. People were diving off the road and off the ferry and yelling warnings in languages I did not understand. Finally I got it – the pickup had no brakes.
It bounced on to the ferry at a most unreasonable speed, motor still screaming in low gear. I was safe, but I worried about our vehicle. It was then that I noticed them – two largish logs laying across the end of the ferry. So this was not the first time that there had been a problem with a vehicle with no brakes. The Peugeot narrowly missed our vehicle and plowed into the logs. They were not up to the task given them. Into the river they went. Following close behind the cab of the pickup disappeared into the opaque, brown water. Everyone ran to the rescue, but the driver came bubbling up unhurt. There was a lively exchange of words, again in a language or languages I did not understand. I was told that the driver was unhappy with the ferry crew, but they had pointed out that brakes are required by law.
I thought, “Now they have to call for a crane to remove the pickup because the ferry is pinned between the pick up and bank. We will either sit here for days or drive a very long way around to find a bridge or a different ferry.” That thought proved my lack of knowledge of Chadian ingenuity. The rear tires of the pickup were still, barely, on the front ramp of the ferry. The front and rear hinged ramps were connected by cables that ran through pulleys on steel poles above the deck of the ferry. So, when one ramp went down the other necessarily went up. The crew tied the pickup to the ferry with large ropes, then recruited passengers to stand on the other ramp one at a time until the weight of the passengers was greater than that of the pickup. Down went the back ramp with passengers standing on it and up went the font ramp with the pickup on it. The crew coaxed it back onto the ferry. A few minutes later we had crossed the river and were ascending the other bank. The pickup driver was trying to get the water out of his engine and complaining about the muddy river water in the many 110 pound bags of sugar in the bed of his truck.