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They asked me to drive. The job title of “chauffeur” wasn’t written in my intern description packet. Right? The only way I would be able to drive this car was if Jesus truly did come down and take the wheel!
I went through my personal checklist of all the ways driving in South Africa could go wrong.
- South Africans drive on the right side of the car and on the left side of the road.
- This car is a manual. (No more description is needed.)
- Cows, goats and all other farm animals are a threat on the road at all times.
- Taxi vans drive on whatever side of the road they feel comfortable. When in South Africa, you best get out of their way!
I could only think about the fate that lay before me. I knew my time here on planet Earth could be drawing to a close. This was how I was going to go…by a little red car.
The Beginning of the End
I exited the library and laid eyes on my noble steed: the beautiful, 90’s Volkswagen that rivaled the size of a golf cart. Every step of my 6’4” body toward the car felt like a death march. This beaut was at the top of its game because it only took five minutes to start the engine.
Siyanda drove to the soccer field where the journey truly began. I placed my sweaty hands on the steering wheel, moved my seat back as far back as it could go and, with my knees still in the dashboard, we set off. Well, almost…
It took me five minutes to get the car started and into first gear. By my standards, I am thrilled it only took me that long.
Driving 15 kilometers per hour through a dirt soccer field, it took me another 15 minutes to work the car through the first four gears without killing it. I was finally gaining confidence in making laps around the goal post and dodging the occasional child.
Then it was time to hit the road.
With as much composure as I could muster, I left the safety of the soccer field and headed to the wild unknown of the road.
I sputtered along at a speed that would make most grandmas look like NASCAR drivers. Somehow this vehicle was making it up and down the steep hills of kwaNyuswa. I was completely convinced this vehicle ran on one-fourth gas and three-fourths the grace of God.
Stuck & Stared At
Then it happened. The car died. It died on one of the steepest hills in kwaNyuswa.
The pressure was on. People were standing around and staring. I knew what they were thinking, Look at that umulungu (white person), with his head jammed in the roof of the car, attempting to drive. That is embarrassing.
Twenty minutes went by, and we were still stuck on the hill. Despite Siyanda’s efforts to teach me how to balance the clutch and the gas while releasing the parking break, it wasn’t happening.
We waved around at least 20 cars and one chicken to pass us. People would come and go finding some quality entertainment as they watched my distress. Never had the “Learner Car” sign on the back been so true.
I Came, I Stalled, I Conquered
Siyanda kept his patience with me allowing me to learn how to get up this hill. Then, finally, I did it! I balanced the clutch and the gas. The car began to shake as if the engine was about to blow.
I reached the top of the hill and looked out over kwaNyuswa as the sun was going down over one of the many hills. I felt a sense of accomplishment.
Not a small sense of accomplishment but one that rivaled the way I felt after completing my first Spartan Race. I didn’t have to climb under 200 yards of barbwire in the mud, but looking back I think that was easier than driving the red death trap. Sitting on top of that hill I felt as if I was on top of the world.
We pulled in safely to Light Providers and set foot back on solid ground. I had done it. After conquering the car I felt ready to go and tackle any challenge that lay before me. Nothing in South Africa could even compare to the challenge of driving that car.
I can’t understand why I haven’t been asked to drive since that heroic day. After all, I think I do a pretty good job of selling it…
About the Author: Tyler is a summer intern with World Next Door for 2012. He is currently studying Social Work at IUPUI. He has a hope to see social justice take place in this world through the transforming love of Christ. He loves working out, playing sports, and sometimes thinks he is still going to be a professional athlete. He also listens to Taylor Swift more than he cares to admit.