Monday, June 30, 2003

On the way to the game park on Saturday morning I did what I definitely wasn’t supposed to do (according to the guide book) and picked up a hitchhiker in Johannesburg. I probably wouldn’t have stopped had he not been wearing a shirt and tie (I figured I could handle a simple confidence trickster), and had he not run after and then almost run in front of the car as I pulled onto the on-ramp (American terminology for slip road which I quite like as it saves you having to describe which slip road you are talking about).

On closer inspection his appearance turned out to be something less than smart. His trousers had holes at both of his knees and his shoes were literally falling apart. He’d traveled up to the highway in order to look for some work but had been unsuccessful. His family was waiting for him to bring home some food. Other then the milk and bread his two children had been given in school the previous day his family hadn’t eaten since Thursday. In desperation, he was traveling 200 km to his uncle’s home to ask for assistance. He’d been waiting for 2 hours for someone to pick him up.

I drove him to a shopping centre from where he could catch a taxi (a communal minibus) to his uncle’s house. Before he left, we went to a supermarket so I could buy him something to eat. He had an epic discussion with the guy who was serving rice and various chicken dishes into metal containers. I couldn’t work out what exactly what it was about, but had something to do with Ishmael (my hitchhiker) wanting small amounts of sauce from various other dishes to be included with the chicken curry dish he’d chosen. The manager came over and got involved. I just stood around and pretended to laugh (doing my ‘you can’t take him anywhere’ routine). Eventually he either did or didn’t get what he wanted and we headed to the checkout with his two containers of rice and curry and a bottle of Sprite.

On the way out of the supermarket I was accosted by a drunk shouting ‘why Bush why?, why Bush why?’ at me repeatedly (Bush was in SA to meet Mbeki (sp)). I tried to ignore this guy for a while, before giving in and rising to bait. Ishmael, my companion, was a guy who could get into an argument over a container of chicken curry; I felt sure he’d wholeheartedly support my wish to enter into a engaging debate with someone who seemed to be challenging me so vigorously, I had the right to defend myself against the accusations of a drunk.

To my surprise, Ishmael was not impressed. As I prepared to explain my ‘anti-Bush doctrine‘ views to the drunk he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me away. A few minutes ago I’d seen what I assumed was him being petty enough to get into a silly argument over some curry, he’d suddenly changed into a mature individual who understood that arguing with drunks when you don’t share a common language is a waste of time.
The drunk continued his rhetorical questioning, all the time being scolded by Ishmael, and I not being allowed to respond to him. By the time we reached the car the security was also involved in defending my dignity from having to answer to a drunk.

I drove Ishmael to the minibus taxis gave him some money for his fare, and then carried on my journey. He insisted on having my telephone number so he could phone me when he arrived safely. I obliged, although I warned him that making a call to my mobile would probably cost him more money that the taxi fare and the curry combined.

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