Monday, 5 November 2012

Operation: Get a Vehicle

As promised earlier, below is a post that we prepared describing our road trip to Johannesburg and our new vehicle. Due to the lack of internet access and our need to post about Kitwe, this post is a few weeks late. But we hope you enjoy, anyway!

Having been in South Africa for over a month, we were itching for our own freedom. We loved living in community in the Hands Village but there were times where we definitely felt trapped. On average, we would only be able to go into White River once per week for a grocery run and whatever else we could do in the allotted timeframe. Something as simple as going out for dinner was not very practical. When we found out that we were going to be in Kitwe, Zambia long term, i.e., until at least the end of April, we decided that it was best for us to get a car. This decision was made for several reasons:
  • The plan is for us to be in Kitwe during the work week (Mon – Fri) and then to travel to Kachele Farm in Luanshya (about 50 km away) on the weekends so that we have the opportunity to connect and be in community with other Hands volunteers. Having a car gives us the flexibility to travel to and from the Farm whenever convenient for us, rather than have to take a local minibus and potentially travel in the dark.
  • We are the only international volunteers in Kitwe. The Service Center in Kitwe has its own vehicle but there will likely be times where having our own vehicle will greatly aid our work.
  • Freedom! We are going to be in a relatively large city in Zambia. We love to have the opportunity to explore and have the flexibility to do things on our own schedule.

The next step was for us to set a budget and identify what type of car we needed. Because we were going to drive the vehicle to Zambia, we needed a decent enough car, in decent enough condition, to be confident that it could make the 3-day trek in one piece and not have it break down in the middle of Botswana. We also needed a car that had high clearance because of: (a) the bumpy dirt roads in the communities we work in; (b) the treacherous potholes on many of the tar roads; and (c) the ginormous speed bumps we encounter on a regular basis. Lastly, we needed something with a generous amount of trunk space to store all of our luggage and belongings.

With our specifications narrowed down, we (mainly Byron, actually) scoured the internet hour upon hour, and created an Excel spreadsheet listing the important specifications of each vehicle we were potentially interested in. Sounds like a Byron thing to do, doesn’t it? We quickly found out that there was next to no selection in the surrounding area, i.e., White River and Nelspruit and that the greater Johannesburg/Pretoria area contained a much larger selection of vehicles for better prices. This meant one thing … road trip!

We picked up a rental car in Nelspruit on a Wednesday night (a 1-hour process that was extremely frustrating!) and then set out for our 4-hour road trip to Johannesburg at 6:00 am the next morning. We were quite nervous about setting off on our own into one of the most notoriously dangerous cities in the world. Thankfully, we had the support of the entire Hands community around us, which made the process quite a bit easier. One volunteer loaned us his GPS, which was a lifesaver, as Google Map directions aren’t exactly the greatest, and Lynn lent us his map of the Gauteng province. Both came in handy and prevented us from getting lost or from ending up in shady parts of town. We also had several Hands people checking up on us like worried-sick parents and praying for us throughout the entire process. It truly was a testament to the whole “Hands is a family” mentality that exists throughout the entire organization.

Our initial plan was to spend the entire day on Thursday viewing and test driving as many vehicles on our list as possible. On Friday, we would make our decision and purchase the vehicle early enough in the day for us to drive back to Hands Village before dark. Of course, things did not go according to plan. Some of the vehicles we went to see had already been sold. Some were absolute pieces of trash. Of all the cars we test drove on the first day, there was one standout. But being the anal and thorough consumer that Byron is, we figured we had time to see and test drive one more vehicle on Friday morning before making the ultimate decision. This was a bad call. The vehicle was a dud and, to make matters worse, we ended up stuck in a traffic jam that changed our time of travel from an estimated 20 minutes to 1 hour, 45 minutes.

We arrived at the dealership around noon only to find out that the owner (and the only one in the whole dealership that could write us up an official invoice) was on his way out the door to Mosque. Are you kidding me?! We decided to wait it out since we had to wait, regardless, for the vehicle to be taken for a roadworthy test and get fitted for a new battery. With the owner returning around 2:00 pm, we figured we would still have plenty of time to do all the paperwork and for the wire payment to clear before the end of the day. Wrong! After completing all the necessary paperwork to transfer the funds, we finally received confirmation that the funds were sent at 3:15 pm but still needed to await confirmation that the funds had cleared in his account. We waited at the dealership until 6:00 pm (meaning that we literally sat in the dealership for almost 6 hours) with still no confirmation. We were stressing. If the funds didn’t clear on Friday afternoon, did that mean we would have to stay in Johannesburg until Monday morning? We left the dealership dejected and in search of a new guesthouse to stay for the night.

Early on Saturday morning, we finally received confirmation that the funds had cleared in the account. Much to our surprise (and frustration), it turned out that the funds actually did clear in his account on Friday, but that he had not checked his actual account. Rather, he was waiting for an SMS confirmation that didn’t come through until Saturday morning. Wow. This is Africa, I guess! At that point, we were just relieved that we didn’t have to wait until Monday morning. Anyways, here is our new baby – a 2005 Nissan X-Trail with 141,300 kms on it! Not too shabby, eh?

Still at the dealership ... the only time Diane is allowed behind the wheel!

Now that we were there for the weekend, we decided to make the most of the situation and use the opportunity to explore Johannesburg, almost like a mini-vacation. It ended up working out for the better. Aside from having to re-wear clothes (including underwear) for a couple days, we turned the experience into a great trip! On the Saturday, we visited the Apartheid Museum, one of the best (and only) attractions in Johannesburg. It was incredible. It took us about 3 hours to walk through the entire museum but, by the end, we were overwhelmed and overloaded with information. I (Byron) seriously wanted to read every single word on the exhibits but quickly found out that it wasn’t possible. We encourage everyone, when they have some spare time, to read a brief overview on Apartheid. The lingering effects of Apartheid are still very prevalent throughout the country and help explain the culture as it exists in South Africa today.


This quote sums up the Apartheid era

Another highlight of our Johannesburg trip was finding a Vietnamese restaurant! Yes, it’s only been one month away from home but we’ve both been suffering through delicious Asian food withdrawal. Pho and bubble tea, in particular, have been at the core of our longing. You can imagine, then, just how happy we were to see the big bright letters of SAIGON as we drove between dealerships. The food wasn’t great by any means but it was absolutely glorious for us. The restaurant was owned by legit Vietnamese people, which led Diane to get up from our table and speak to them in her mother tongue for a solid 20 minutes. Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, I (Byron) was hoping that this instant motherland connection would lead to a discount, or some free spring rolls, at the very least. Nope. Nothing. When we got back to our guest house, we tried searching for other Vietnamese restaurants in the city and surrounding area. It must have been divine intervention that we stumbled upon Saigon because it was the only one. To further the disappointment, we couldn’t find mention of a bubble tea joint anywhere. A city of over 10 million people with only one Vietnamese restaurant and 0 bubble tea joints. No wonder Johannesburg gets no love!

Not the best pho ... but it'll do, pig!

As for the rest of the trip, we realized that there actually are some nice parts of Johannesburg worth seeing – Melrose Arch and Mandela Square, to name a couple. At the end of the day, we got to spend some much needed time alone and we got what we came for – a new (well, not so new) vehicle – just days before we were to leave for Zambia!

Bad traffic!
The fattest Dachshund we had ever seen at one of our guesthouses

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