Michael is the name of our black-skinned driver. A 200 km lift, exactly the kind of motivation we needed. Bleak, beige rock formation on our left remind me of old ‘Wild West‘ movies. Lushly green vegetation, wriggling along the Orange river on our right remind of a landscape, we haven’t encountered for several hundreds of kilometers. Ola and I are sharing the back seat with a another woman, who’s in general absolutely quiet, but occasionally calls attention to herself by doing weird ‘cough-swallow’ sounds. We are passing a single lane construction site when all of a sudden, Ola utters loudly.
“Please don’t kill us!”
2 old, worn out couches and a glassy table, covered with initially filled, eventually empty tea cups and a metal bowl, that got converted into an ash tray. Ola, Getah and I enjoy the calm atmosphere on her porch while listening to a mix of Xavier Rudd and vigorously chirping crickets. A greenish stub follows on every few cigarettes in the slowly filling rusty bowl.
“Give it time and we wonder why, do what we can, laugh and we cry
And we sleep in your dust because we’ve seen this all before”
Mosquito bites are the only thing, that causes disturbance on this peaceful evening. At least for me. Either South-African mosquitoes love tattooed skin, or they have a preference for German blood. “Am I the only one getting Malaria or what?”. German humor. My humor. Ola laughs and shakes her head. A magnificent view, just in front of us. A firmament full of stars. “I wish you were here to share this view, this atmosphere and this hospitality with me”, I think to myself. An hour later I speak it out while phoning with my girlfriend back home.
Gretah hosted us for 2 nights and decided spontaneously, to give us a Cape Town lift on Wednesday morning. After having a traditional South African lunch – fish and chips – she even offers another 70 km lift up North, past the dangerous township area around Cape Town. “You’re the best thing that has happened to us in South Africa”, says Ola gratefully, while giving her a hug. True words, different from all that nonsense, we usually kill time while standing on the road with. 3 hours later, Xavier will pull over.
The family of the 25 years old South-African, whose appearance seems more like South-American, owns a small company, that cuts wood for furniture. After a short interrogation, we convince his mom of us not being serial killers. She offers to set up our tent next to the factory building. Joseph, nickname Opi, is one of the employees and lives in a little hut, straight next tot he workshop. “If you don’t find my room too awkward, feel free to stay with me”. A small toilet, an unfinished shower, 3 folding beds covered in kids beggin, and a TV so old, the Western young generation would probably not even be able to turn it on. A sledgehammer rests next to Opi’s bed. “It’s safe here“, he says. “There has been only 2 burglary attempts“, he continues. We gladly accept his offer.
Opi has been living alone in this little hut for five years now. His wife and children stay in a village, 100 kilometers further south. He can neither afford a car, nor the almost non existent public transportation. He meets his family once every few months. “Sometimes I do feel lonely, but sometimes I enjoy this loneliness. One day I will have saved up enough money to buy us a house in that village over there”, Opi explains and points towards the horizon. He’s approximately in his late 40’s and smiles a lot. He accepted his situation and lives for this humble dream. A dream, I could have fulfilled within 2 months back in my old life, considering my former German salary.
“Stay positiv and always see the good in people”, Xavier writes on my backpack. His dream is to live in Germany one day and become a race driver. “I cross my fingers and if you ever make it to Germany dude, give me a buzz!”, I tell him. A sentence, I used quite frequently in these last days. A sentence, that breaks my heart every time. Considering his passport, his dream seems pretty much impossible.
In the course of the next few days, Ola and I hitch hike 700 kilometers, direction North. We get a lift by a police car on duty, spend a night as homeless in front of a 24 hours petrol station and even get invited to pitch our tent in the backyard of a police station. Leaning against the old station house, we play everyone’s favorite game. In front of us, a box of the cheapest red wine we could possibly find and a curious cat. “Never have I ever gotten drunk at a police station”. We both drink.
Well, to be honest, I lied to you. “Hitch hiking 700 kilometers” isn’t exactly what happened…
“Please don’t kill us”, screams Ola and points hectically towards the road. She bursts out laughing. “Did you see that sing? Please don’t kill me”. According to our driver it’s supposed to be written from an animal perspective. It is meant to stop people from speeding because heaps animals cross this road. Unfortunately we won’t encounter a second one of these signs. We were very keen on taking a picture in front. Anyway, we got partly satisfied with another road sign, that we passed about 2 hours later.
24 hours later, all these jokes become reality. We will end up in a situation, that we had to deal with even hours after.
It is this exact hitch hiking spot. The day after our night at the police station, in a, according to the citizens, very safe village. We end up standing in the burning sun for 2 hours, amused by the low number of cars passing by and we are trying to keep ourselves entertained with gallows humor. A black, short haired man appears on the other side of the road and starts ambling into our direction. His upper body is covered by a black fur jacket. An uncommon sight considering the high temperatures in South Africa. Ola and I have a bad feeling. I kneel down and move my Swiss army knife from my backpack into my little bag. Just in case. The stranger reaches us and immediately throws his jacket on one of our bags. He reveals a collection of grotesque tattoos. Numbers, that remind me of gang tattoos. Numbers he got during his 5 years stay in prison. I do politely refuse his offer to by heroin. The bad feeling gets worse.
He is focused on me. “Can you help me out with some money for a taxi?”, followed by “gimme some money for a drink as well”. I hand over 4 Dollars and keep watching his hands, which move between his own and my upper body. “We are all god”, he says in an English, which is barely understandable. “We men, not women. They are supposed to serve us”. The next thing he asks for is food. We share some toast bread and 7 days old feta cheese, that must be stale by now. Karma. The sun is still relentlessly burning our skins. All of a sudden, Ola has an idea. She pretends to have stomach cramps and crouches down. Honestly, I rate her acting skills 5 out of 5. Not like ‘Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill” acting, more like “Robin Williams in Good will hunting” acting. A perfect pretense for walking back to the petrol station. Ola needs a toilet. I strap both our backpacks on my shoulders and we immediately start walking. In the very beginning, the drug dealer follows us, but turns around shortly after. Luckily.
Were we too friendly? Did we act in the correct way? What would have happened if? While walking towards the petrol station Ola, who was facing this guy’s back during the incident, explains something that I did not notice. The drug dealer was actually carrying both, a knife and a rifle in the back of his trousers. We will take a bus and skip the next 300 kilometers. The morning after we are back on the road and wave down cars. The first car surprisingly stops and offers us a lift. A lift straight to the Namibian border.
4 Dollars and some food. We could not have gotten off any more lightly. Our first mugging. A piece of paper and a stamp later, we end our South Africa adventure early.