The first time I drove a Land Rover in Africa, it was a disaster. The first time I drove a Land Rover in Africa, we rolled down a sand dune, lost a door and a football match but found a dozen teammates. The first time I drove a Land Rover in Africa, I knew it wouldn’t be the last time.
Purrrpht! Coughed the Land Rover’s engine as the massive tires bit hard into the loose sand. But it was clear we weren’t going anywhere fast. I shoved the gear stick to neutral and back to first, ramming the accelerator, and saw the car moving. Only it wasn’t going the way it was supposed to; we were rolling slowly back down the steep sand-dune.
Desperate and clueless, I pulled the gear stick this way and that, applying the golden rule of ‘fake it until you make it’ religiously. But the Land Rover wasn’t quite on the same page as me, it seemed, and after a few more deathly coughs, the engine gave in and with that, we came to a halt. The heat and the buzz of insects flooded in through the open windows as a few local kids walked past us, smiling but clearly bewildered at the sight of two muzungus (foreigners) sitting in a dead car in the middle of nowhere.
“Out of Diesel, do you think?” Asked Phillip as he waved back at the kids.
“I sure hope so.”
“So, what do we do now?”
“Sit and listen to the noises of bush for a while?”
“Exactly what I had in mind.”
Since walking back to the lodge in the midday heat was not an option, and since sitting tight and waiting for help to arrive seemed too hopeful, we jumped out of the car once we had had our fill of the bush’s symphony, scrambled up the sand-dune barefooted and, the moment a single signal bar appeared on Phillip’s phone, sent Piet an emergency SOS text message asking for help.
Miraculously, Piet received our text and turned up an hour later with enough Diesel to get us to our next destination. We thanked him, then I got back behind the wheel and half an hour later, nearly lost one of the car’s doors.
Going around a tight bend in the dirt road, I noticed an oncoming truck a little too late. Turning the steering wheel hard to the left, I thought I had managed to avoid the truck, when to my horror, the door on my side swung wide open, barreling down towards the truck like some kind of square wrecking ball. I imagined the truck driver shriek in surprise. I sure did. There was nothing I could do but let fate take over and watch. It somehow missed the truck by a few centimeters.
Shocked to my core and embarrassed (a crowd of people sitting outside a shabeen across the street had found their gossip material for the day), I pulled over as the truck disappeared in a dust cloud of her own making as if nothing had happened at all.
“Dude… what was that?” Phillip was hysterical.
After a moment or two, I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it myself. “Man, that was NOT my fault. The door’s hinge came loose exactly as I turned. Look! It’s literally hanging by a thread!”
A piece of rope and a some ingenuity fixed the door momentarily. I sat back behind the wheel, still more than a little shaken. “Shall we go find this goddamn restaurant before the car catches on fire, then?”
Of course, the restaurant we had come all the way to town for was closed. But we had come too far and we were going to find someplace with Wi-Fi come hell or high water. As it turned out, a small family-owned restaurant tucked away in a corner of a courtyard was exactly what we needed. The food was marvelous, the Wi-Fi fast and the bill less than $10 each.
“Are they playing football up there?” Philipp pointed ahead at a small clearing in the bush on the way home, pulling me out of my reverie. I was still high on the day’s events and buzzing on a load of caffeine and I hadn’t played a proper game of football in quite a while.
“Yeah. Do you reckon we can play with them?”
They said sure we could. A few more boys joined us, we split into two teams, —deviously, they ensured Philipp and I were on opposite sides— and the game was on. Simple as that.
We played until the day’s light faded and our legs cramped up and after shaking hands with some of our new friends and promising that we would return for another match tomorrow, drove home in the dark.
“So, how do you feel about today?” Philipp asked as we stopped the car in the driveway.
I struggled to think of everything that had happened that day. “We are going for another game tomorrow. And you are driving this time.”