A Story about “Africa Time”
Madulammoho’s office is always busy. The three directors who run Madulammoho are constantly dashing in and out of meetings. House Managers visit so frequently that I’m not sure who works here and who doesn’t. Tenants come in to sign papers. There is constant chatter in the open floor workspace.
When I started working here two weeks ago, they threw me right into the activity right away – just as I like it! Instead of giving me old manuals to read, my supervisor sent me to an exhibition called “Interbuild Africa” on my second day.
Madulammoho’s driver, Albert, was to drop me off on his way to his deliveries.
The Expo Centre is a 15 minute drive from the office.
About 5 min from the office, Albert stopped to get gas. In South Africa, you don’t pump your own gas: gas attendants are one more job needed in a country with surplus labour. Albert told the attendant his gas choice. We waited, he paid, he started the car. To my untrained ear it sounded exactly the same, but he immediately turned it off. He called the attendant back and spoke to her in Zulu. Turns out she’d filled it with diesel instead of normal gasoline.
A group of other gas station employees came over and pushed the truck back to get it out of the way. Laughing and joking, they lifted it up so that the diesel poured out onto the pavement. Periodically they’d lift it again to keep the gas flowing.
This is my second day of work. I’m in Hillbrow, still a little anxious out from all the horror stories I’ve heard from white South Africans. We’re stranded in the worst part of Johannesburg. We’re beside a construction site and there’s a line of a dozen men sitting on their break and watching us. I’ve just met Albert and am still unsure of how well I can trust him.
I felt like I should probably be concerned, but really I just wanted to laugh. Here I am stuck in one of the most dangerous parts of one of the most dangerous cities in the world – and it’s only my second day. Well, I can tick that off my list of things to do.
It took an hour for the gas attendants to drain the truck of diesel and refill it with gasoline. We then continued on to the Expo Centre and I asked Albert to come pick me up at 3pm.
Albert told me that my supervisor had said he might come pick me up, so I should phone him when I was ready to leave.
At 3pm I phoned my supervisor. No answer. I phoned Albert. He said he’d phone my supervisor and get back to me. Ten minutes later the MHA receptionist phoned me back. She told me that Albert was going to come pick me up at 3:30pm.
I walked around a bit more, then headed out to the front at 3:20pm. Three-thirty comes and goes, but I’m not worried. I remembered how long the journey took in the morning: half an hour is nothing.
At 4pm I called Albert. “Are you still coming?”
“Yes, I’m on my way. Be there soon.”
At 4:30pm I called again – just in case the truck had broken down or something. Diesel is not very healthy for a gasoline engine.
Albert said, “Yes I’m close. Traffic is bad. Seven minutes away.”
Seven minutes. Sure.
At 4:45pm, Albert finally pulled up. He apologized profusely as I got in the truck. He explained that he’d had to pick something up from one of the projects, but it wasn’t ready when he got there, and then the highway traffic was almost at a standstill.
I just laughed and told him, “Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad the truck is still working.”
To be honest, I was annoyed. If I’d known 3:30pm actually meant 4:45pm I’d have sat down inside instead of standing at the gate for over an hour. But it wasn’t Albert’s fault, so what was the point in getting mad at him?
Albert seemed relieved I wasn’t angry at him. During the morning ride he’d been taciturn, but now he was quite talkative. He asked me I knew how to drive manual. I laughed and said, “Yeah, but I’m really out of practice.” He began a driving lesson, explaining each step as he changed gears and pointing out which roads to avoid.
Now we’re good buddies. He greets me enthusiastically every morning. When he heard me and my supervisor talking about getting the company car repaired, he even said “But then you won’t need me to drive you.”
What a sweetheart.
But that doesn’t mean I want to wait 2 hours every time I need a ride.