September 17, 2007


I have never owned a car in my life but now in Mthatha I find I am primarily responsible for one. The volunteers of the African Medical Mission are given a community car and because I am here the longest, I have been designated as its caretaker. Due to a series of unfortunate events that totaled the previous vehicle, we didn’t have a car when I arrived but this new one arrived last week. The major challenge for me with the new car is that it is a stick-shift. Theoretically, I know exactly how to drive a stick but practically I am a bit rusty. So I have been sharpening my skills on the mad roads of Mthatha. So far, I’ve only stalled in the middle of one intersection (the cars kept whizzing by on either side) and am generally feeling better each day about my ability. (My driving skills, however, have sunk into a pit of despair. "If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em" and since no one else in Mthatha follows the rules I can’t say I’ve been a very good driver either.)

Our VW is apparently a 2005 model, though it would perhaps be more accurate to call it a 1980 model assembled in 2005. It reminds me of a car my family owned when I was about 8 or 10. It would never be sold in the United States because there just aren’t enough extraneous bells and whistles to make it appealing. In fact, there aren’t any bells and whistles, like, say, power steering, electric locks, and so on and so forth. When people in the past asked me what my dream car was, I often said, "Anything with four wheels that moves forward when I tell it to." That, almost literally, is what this car does and nothing more. (Backwards, too, though it’s tough to find reverse.)

I found my favourite part of the car the other morning when the car was having trouble starting. My East German fellow volunteer said, "Try the choke." "Choke," I thought, "he’s got to be kidding. Only boat and snowmobile engines have chokes." But sure enough, underneath the steering column is a choke, which started the car quite nicely. I asked him if he had ever seen a choke on a car before and he said, "Of course, every car in the GDR had one!" Great, I’m glad to know the Stasi would approve of our new wheels.

Anyway, except for the small issue of leg room, which is more or less an issue in every car I drive, I am quite pleased with the car. And driving on the left is even beginning to seem normal lately.


Caminante said...

That looks like my first car, a 1980 VW Rabbit (Golf). Maybe it was rebuilt in 2005 but that's no 2005 car. Glad to discover your blog.

Caminante (aka Lee Crawford -- we met anew at 815 in June)