Driving Through SowetoBy Iquo B. Essien, The AFRican Blogger

Driving Through Soweto
By Iquo B. Essien, The AFRican Blogger

Published on Mon, Aug 20 2007 by Iquo Essien

Yesterday was an interesting day. I was supposed to hit up Soweto and hang with my friend Amelia's cousin, but to do that I had to rent a car. Now, in S. Africa, everybody drives on the lefthand side of the street and sits on the righthand side of the car. Secondly, I was generally a bit sheepish about driving in a new town, though I was accompanied by Thaala's cousin Ref to AVIS Rent-a-Car, whose presence allayed some of my fears.

However, when we arrived, AVIS had just rented out their last automatic car. Ref was very conscientious in calling around to other dealers (the airport etc) to see if there were any automatics available in a reasonable radius to our part of town -- but there weren't.

So I, being the fierce/fearless/stubborn azz that I am, cheekily suggested renting a standard and just figuring it out. "After all, how hard could it be?" I added.

I must inspire a lot of confidence in people, because Ref was convinced enough to let the guy hand me a pair of keys to a cute little black VW golf. After a cursory explanation of what the clutch, brake, and accelerator were, he left me in the parking lot as he dashed off to a meeting.

Several stalls, shakes, and screeches later, I had one of the AVIS guys tryna to explain how to ease back on the clutch while applying light pressure to the accelerator. Several more jolts and stops after that, a guy walked up and asked if I was studying for my driver's license. I assured him that I had been driving for a decade, just never a manual. Then Thomas, who worked at a pizza place next door to AVIS, agreed to give me some lessons around the parking lot.

Three hours and a couple of tests later (parking, accelerating, reversing), I was declared fit to go out on the road.

I got out into traffic and my car stalled about a half block away from the parking lot and I couldn't get it started. As people started honking at me I knew Thomas was about to come running as soon as he heard the din, but he was nowhere to be found. It wasn't that I couldn't move the car as much as my nerves were getting the best of me and I was forgetting all my lessons. A few kind men watching from the side of the road pushed me off the street into a taxi depot and then instructed me to call my mother or boyfriend to come pick me up.

As they walked off to the side and a solid group of local traders/beggars gathered to watch me sputter, stall and stop, sputter, stall and stop, I finally got the car moving and took off back to the road thanking them for their support. (NOT! Looking at me like some kind of shouldn't-be-driving-woman.) Thank God that when I put pedal to the metal and got back to the main road, my car barely stalled all the way back to Thaala's house.

Fast forward a day later when I declared myself fit to drive to Soweto.

Despite my willful ignorance of map reading (I would rather get lost!), I found some very kind people who directed me towards the township on the outskirts of Joburg. On my way to Zone 6 in Meadowlands, I took a wrong turn and ended up in an entirely different town. Luckily, I stopped by a makeshift car garage where a bunch of twenty-something-year-old bright-eyed boys were cleaning and fixing up cars. After explaining how to get there in a very convoluted way, and seeing the glazed look in my eyes, three of the guys offered to direct me there as though it were an ad hoc field trip. They hopped in and started giving directions.

By the time we finally arrived it was too late to really see any of the sites. Amelia's fam kept saying that they couldn't believe that I found such nice boys in Soweto because people aren't so nice there. And the boys were telling me to thank God I didn't run into a band of thieves, cause apparently the black VW golf is the most coveted of cars.

The deeper you go downtown, the more crowded it gets. You immediately know you have left town because all the spaces disappear between the houses and each fence is ringed with barb wire. There's also very little open space. Soweto is so crowded -- almost like a traffic jam in the early morning. It reminded me of more of what I'm used to of my fam in NG as compared to staying in the suburbs of Joburg. The tin roofs, broken lightbulbs, and buckets for bathing -- but with the addition of TVs, ATMs, clubs, and internet cafes.

That being said, there are people really living there. People doing the most with what they have and living life. Amelia's fam and I hit up a few clubs (The Ozone, The Rock, White Horse) with neon flashing lights, red painted walls, and folks crowded in butt cheek to butt cheek. And apparently all the fine azz guys are in Soweto. I saw people STYLIN' like they wuz up in Harlem or something. In fact, Soweto reminds me alot of Harlem. I've heard that it's becoming gentrified in some areas, with houses in some of the more popular towns getting really expensive.

The more I travel, the more I realize we're all dealing with the same isht.

I'm sure I'll make it back there some day. At any rate, if there ever were a place to learn stick, it's in Soweto. I'm feelin' real SAFisticated right about now. ;)


The AFRican Blogger


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