Thursday, August 22, 2013

No Pampers North of The Limpopo

Scott and I love Greek Salad. We have been lucky to find all the ingredients, even Feta Cheese, at most South African markets such as Pik ‘n Pay or Spar, and we even found a tub of Danish Feta in a Kruger Park mini mart. But as we drove out of South Africa and into Botswana, we wondered if there would be any Feta north of the Limpopo.  We finished our last Greek Salad before crossing the Limpopo River and bid farewell to Feta Cheese and Calamata olives, and hello to Tris and Scott’s Bush Taxi Service.

In 2005, when we traveled from Casablanca to Cape Town, we traveled the continent mostly by bush taxi. Throughout Africa we stood along the sides of dusty roads overheated and hopeful for a lift. With our right arms extended at a forty-five degree angle we waved our hands, palm side down, in the international “please stop” fashion at any passing mode of transport. Every vehicle we encountered (granted, there weren’t many on our route), zoomed by, windows rolled up to keep the cool air inside and nary a glance from the driver our direction. In ten months of travel only one white person ever stopped to give us a lift. He really had no choice. Scott was practically carrying me down the road and the lift was to the hospital where I was to be admitted for malaria treatment. Anyway, we never forgot how difficult it was to get from point A to point B and we vowed that if we were ever lucky enough to have our own vehicle in Africa, we would offer free transport to those in need. Since arriving in Botswana, we have had many opportunities to do so.

Our first passenger was a woman trying to get to the next town to visit her sick brother in hospital. After exchanging hellos and names she sat quietly staring at the road in front of us. After a time she began to laugh. “Something is funny?” I asked from my spot next to her in the middle seat straddling the gear stick.
“It is not common for white people to pick up a black person on the road in Africa!” she said with bemusement.
“Evidentially, it’s not common for white people to pick up white people either!” I said.

A week later we passed a woman dressed in heels, a straight skirt, ivory blazer, and matching hat; somewhat like Africa’s version of a Mary Kay Saleswoman still eager to earn a pink Cadillac. We slowed and reversed to offer her a ride. She accepted with a radiant smile. In perfect English she greeted us with dressed-for-success enthusiasm. Joyce was on her way home to the next town 35 kilometers away. I asked about her family and if she worked. “Yes! I am self-employed,” she answered. “In fact, I would like you to join my company.” And she told us about how she sold vitamins for a company called Golden and that if I started selling vitamins too, rather buying them from her and re-selling, we could both make money. “Please join my company!” she said again.
“Uh, unfortunately we are headed to Zimbabwe so, logistically, I don’t think it would work. But thank you for the offer.” She accepted that cheerfully and fell silent, staring at the road in front of us. After ten minutes she said, “You know, I think you will have many blessings.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because,” she said, “it is not common for a black person to be sitting in a white person’s car getting a lift. If people could see me they would say ‘Eish! What is that woman doing with those white people?’ So,” she finished with a confident nod, “because you have stopped for me, I think you will have many blessings.” When we reached the center of her village (a crossroads) she climbed out of N’doto and thanked us saying, “Sharp, very sharp!” which is a Batswana expression meaning ‘very good.’ Then she crossed the road and joined a group of woman waiting for lifts in the opposite direction. As we drove away I looked back to see her smiling broadly and telling the story of how she got a lift from two white people in an old Landy.

My blessings came all too soon. Twenty kilometers down the road a group of two women, three children, and a man, stood along the road. There was no village in sight and the area was heavily populated with elephants and other wild animals. When the man saw that we were foreigners, his arm fell by his side, as he did not expect us to stop.
“Do you think we have room for all of them?” Scott asked taking his foot off the gas.
“Sure!” and we stopped and reversed. It turned out that only one woman and her two children, aged 1 and 3 needed a lift. “Oh, then we can all sit in front,” I said. “I’ll hold the little girl on my lap.” Again, I straddled the gear stick. The baby boy was soon sound asleep in his mother’s arms, a Mona Lisa smile played on his lips and around his eyes while he slept. What is he dreaming about, I thought. Elephants? Monkeys?  Food? As we drove I tried to engage the little girl on my lap. Her mother told me that her name was Fuchsia. She smelled sweet, like a flower, so that made sense. “Aren’t you beautiful!” I said looking down at her little face. Each time I said something she nodded exactly twice, always looking me directly in the eyes taking my strange words seriously. But she never made a sound. Ah, what an angel, I thought. After a while her lids grew heavy and she stopped staring into my eyes and fell fast asleep. It felt so cozy to cradle a youngster in my arms. Scott looked at me and smiled knowing that I was happy as a clam. Fuchsia, bundled up in too many clothes as African children always are no matter how hot the day, was becoming warm in my arms. Too warm. She was in the deepest sleep I have ever seen. Why is it that a sleeping body is so much heavier than a waking one? My arm was going numb. Now she was as heavy as an eight year old. I shifted position and let her head drop onto Scott’s arm, hoping she would wake up. No luck. It was as if she was in a coma. I was beginning to sweat. Then, without warning, my lap became super heated. And damp. Then soaking wet. It was coming from Fuchsia or more precisely, Fuchsia’s bottom. “Uh oh,” I whispered to Scott. “No Pampers north of the Limpopo.”

When we reached the town where the woman lived with her husband and two children, I handed Fuchsia to her mother and indicated that Fuchsia had had an accident by pointing to my sopping wet jeans. The mother chuckled, as embarrassed moms whose babies pee on people who give them a lift do and she let me change into dry clothes in her home.

The good news is, while there might not be Pampers disposable diapers north of The Limpopo, there is Feta. There’s also a “Wet Wipes” type product, which I used with vigor on the middle seat of N’doto. But we have become bad people. Every time there is an off odor in the car we blame it on a little girl named Fuchsia.

Teresa O'Kane
Kasane, Botswana

Want to know more about our bush taxi experiences over ten months Casablanca to Cape Town?
Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town

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