I’ve truly loved every car I have ever owned, and I say owned loosely as most of my cars have been owned by my parents technically. My first car was a 93’ grey ford ranger. It was a small truck with a single cab with a manual transmission and a burgundy interior. It was my car for two years then my sisters car for two years, both of us very proud of our cute little truck (and our ability to drive a manual). My next car I went in 50-50 with my parents after my freshman year of college. It was a red PT Cruiser, I forget the year but it had automatic locks and a sunroof. While it was a bit of a “dorky” car I loved it deeply as I had helped pay for it, that is for the two months I had it before totaling it on a country road. My next vehicle was another truck, a blue Chevy Silverado with an extended bed and extended cab. We called that truck “the beast” as it was massive. After that car almost bankrupted my parents with gas bills, they sold it and I inherited another identical PT Cruiser that had been my grandmothers. I drove that for a few months before leaving for Hawaii. In Hawaii I did not have a car for my first year, and shared a car with my friend for a few months my second year. It was an old Ford Explorer Sport, a cute little two door SUV again with a manual transmission. I adored that car, but when my friend left Hawaii I was forced to sell it. A year and a half later I bought my friend’s car off of her when she left the island, a little red Plymouth Breeze sedan. It was the first car I ever bought all on my own, and I loved her, even shipped her to the Big Island when I moved there.
A car has always given me a great sense of freedom. I was one of the last in my class to turn 16 and get my license and truly was itching for the freedom it would give me. I could go where I want, when I wanted to. My friends can attest that I like to be in some sense of control on our outings. Even if I don’t have to, I often like to be the one who drives. It gives me a sense of safety, not safety from crashing, but a safety that I know where we are going, and when and I have some kind of control over when we will be heading home. It is something I have battled a lot, and at times I have done well at surrendering this control, at other times I have not done so well. My friends from Hawaii are no doubt chuckling at how true this admission is.
In Africa I have to throw all of that desire for control out of the window and be completely surrendered to the unknown and unpredictable happenings of the day. For example, yesterday Whitney and I were headed to the closest town over, Noepe to attend a kind of BBQ at a friend’s house. In order to get there we had to walk down the red dirt road leading to the campus and cross the main road, in order to be headed in the right direction. It was just moments before a taxi pulled up, and at first glance any westerner would have thought not only is this toyota corolla taxi is full, its actually already overpacked with a woman in the front seat, three women and two children in the back. That does not stop African taxis picking up more passengers, and it did not stop us. Whitney joined the woman in the front and I the women in the back scooting under a woman more than next to her. I could tell she felt somewhat badly and all I had to offer her was “sa bon” it’s okay, in French. She seemed to settle which encouraged me although I could not quite take in a full breath. Her two children were with her, one standing in between our legs and the other, a baby maybe a year old sat on her lap. Of course the children were quite fascinated by me, a white girl smashed into the taxi with them. The baby had big beautiful eyes and about half way through out ten minute journey the mother, very casually pulls out her breast and begins to feed the child. I began to laugh in my head at the fuss we make over breastfeeding in public in America, while this woman who is basically sitting on my lap has no qualms about feeding her child in front of me.
We didn’t know quite where the house was, and accidentally got out of the tax too early. Friends of ours from the campus passed us on taxi motos(motorcycles) and since the house was not too far ahead, sent the motor back within minutes to collect us and bring us to the home. Let me tell you getting on a motorcycle with a skirt on is not easy. After the BBQ we wanted to head to the outskirts of the capitol city to the ATM and grocery store. We struggled to find a taxi, so ended up taking taxi motos to another spot where we could catch a car taxi. As we climbed off the motos I thought what luck there is an empty taxi waiting right there. We clambered in, but what I forgot is that the ti won’t leave until the car is full, in order to maximize. So we waited as the driver whistled and called out to several people, none of whom actually needed a taxi. After about ten minutes the driver managed to find one man, who took the front seat and we headed off. We decided to stop the taxi at the beginning of the road we needed in order to grab a snack. After that stop we got two more motos, stopped at the ATM and headed to the grocery store. Typically I have found that the majority of drivers in Togo ask for reasonably fair rates and don't try to quadruple the charge because of our skin color. But this particular moto driver wanted far more than we knew was fair. Whitney held her ground and called over a vendor whom we have bought fruit and veggies from in the past to help negotiate. After a price was settled on, although both parties left somewhat disgruntled, we headed into the store. On the way back, with grocery bags in tow, we clambered into another seemingly full taxi, and I joined a young man in sharing the front seat.
From my love of driving and desire for control, to having to use multiple forms of transport just to get a few simple chores done. I am being continually stretched in my ability to daily surrender. While getting around here is hard, it is doable and it most definitely is an adventure. It continues to make me thankful for the conveniences I have in the western world, though I don’t pity the people here. They are hard workers and many live good lives, their daily tasks simply take much more time and effort than ours do. More so it makes me ask myself, what do I do with the time I save when I drive myself, or go through a drive through ATM, or simply turn the oven on? Sometimes I pack that “time saved” with extra chores, tasks and activities. Sometimes I stretch that time into how many episodes of my favorite TV shows I can watch. Neither of these examples are bad by any means, and both have their place. But as I return to the US I want to challenge myself to be very intentional with my time, whether that is intentional rest, work or pleasure. I want my life there to continue to have meaning and I want to maximize the time I am given by the luxury of not having to walk for water, catch a taxi, or build a fire for dinner.