Thursday, February 21, 2013


Please indulge me as I leave my adopted homeland. I'm writing a series called

"Top Ten Things I Would Have Never Said in America" 

She looks like my Old Lady, but it's a stock photo....

5.  Are you using the car? 

We are known for our gas guzzling habits in the USA, I think.  Sometimes our reputation is not deserved.  I know many peole in the US driving hybrids, riding bikes and slimming their family’s car possession down to one vehicle.

Just not us.

Our lives, as most couples, were dual career.  Mario worked for the Department of Justice and I was a teacher.  We also had children, which require our lives to revolve around them and their schedules.  They had lots and lots and lots of activities. 

Then they learned to drive….

Enough of the walk down memory lane.  When we got to South Africa I was introduced to cars that had a steering wheel on the right hand side of the vehicle and traffic that drove on the left hand side of the road.  Oy, oy oy! Did that get taking used to!

For years I had a red Volvo, my “Old Lady”, I called her.  She was slow and predictable and heavy, like many old ladies I admire.  She was recognized in the township, loved by my friends and had a great stereo.  She was my freedom-mobile. 

Then she broke down…a year ago.

We sold her to a mechanic and I cried the day I said goodbye to her.  I was now car-less. 

While Mario and I looked for a car we realized that we couldn’t afford one.  Most of the vehicles on the road came with a bank loan (NO MORE CAR PAYMENTS! Is our philosophy) except for the skdunks (Afrikaans for old, beat-up car).

I guess that’s what my old lady was… *sigh* How I miss her!

Nevertheless, I was introduced to the life of a car-less South African.  I had to ask my husband’s schedule to see if I could make plans.  If I had a trip to the township scheduled and he was called away I would have to cancel.

“I’m sorry, Babe,” he’d say as he kissed me goodbye.  “Please don’t take a taxi!”

Mario knows that on my bucket list is the “take a South African taxi somewhere” entry.  The thought scared him.

South African taxis are simply vans driven by aggressive mafia-like creatures that disobey every road sign and run over people all in the name of money.  At least that’s the way we all see them.  The majority of the black population in Johannesburg gets to their jobs via these taxis.  They are dependent on them.  In a way, the whole nation is dependent on the taxis.

Today I went to my employment place (I make pocket money by tutoring English and writing) to turn in my work register and get paid.  Mario came with me and when he saw I was going to be awhile he left. 
“I’m going to make a quick trip to the bank,” he said, kissing me goodbye.  “I’ll be right back.” 

I know Mario wants to be right back.  I know he thinks that Thursday noon at ABSA is not so bad.  In my head, I know differently.  He has to change our mailing address, redirect a bunch of things…all because we are leaving in three weeks. 

We are leaving in three weeks.

I bleakly filled in my register on the computer and thought of how much I was going to miss this place.  Even though we haven’t had a cushy life and I don’t have a car I will miss the life we have built here.  I got so sad there in the office. 

When the secretary said goodbye to me she didn’t  notice I had been crying.  

I decided to wait for Mario outside.  Then I decided to wait for him at the corner.  Then… I decided I would take a taxi to the bank.

I have never before taken a taxi until today.  I know all the taxi signs in the North (1 finger for Randburg, 3 fingers for Joburg, 4 fingers for Fourways and a waving hand for Diepsloot), but I have never used one. 
I got to the corner of Leslie and William Nicol and a little Mama walking ahead of me flagged down a taxi.  I ran up behind her. 

“Are you going to Fourways?” I asked the driver. 

“Yes,” he was staring at me blankly.

“How much?”

“Nine rand.” 

GIVE ME A BREAK! I thought.   I’m white, not stupid. 

I showed him the five rand coin in my palm.  “I only have five rand.”

He smiled, as did the other ladies in the front seat.  “Get in,” he said.  “But you will jump out at the robot.”  Translation: you won’t get a ride to the Fourways Mall for five rand. 

“Okay,” I said, gratefully.  “I will jump.  I’m good at jumping!”

I think I saw him smile.

Ninjani, sis?” I greeted the lady sitting next to me. She was trying to suppress a smile. 

Yebo,” she said quietly.  “Ninjani.”

Sikhona,” I smiled.  I was in a TAXI!!!  I was so pumped!

“You know Zulu…” she said, smiling. 

I showed her a pinch with my fingers.  “This much,” I said, laughing.  The other ladies in taxi laughed. 

I think I must have chosen the cleanest, nicest taxi in Johannesburg.  It was much nicer than our car.  I was a little disappointed.

Before I knew it, my taxi driver dropped me at the Fourways robot.  I jumped out, thanking him.  I scanned the faces of the beautiful women in the taxi.  They took this method of transportation all the time.

Hamba kahle,” one of them said, smiling.  (“Go well” in Zulu)

I lit up.  “Sala kahle, ladies!” (Stay well, ladies) I said before I shut the door.  

I made my way to the Fourways Mall, an easy distance from the robot.  I got lots of stares.  Here a fifty year old white woman does not use public transportation often. 

It was a highlight of my time here. 

We don’t need two cars; South Africa has taught me this.

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