Yesterday evening, my car broke down in a really dodgy part of town.
It was 6pm. I had one kid in the back of the car, and the little one a few kilometres down the road at a crèche that was about to close. Oh, and my husband was traveling in the Middle East. Yay.
This is the sort of place where accident victims get robbed while lying in their blood waiting for the emergency services to arrive, or that’s what I’m told. And there I am, an alone lady, using my shiny smartphone to call the vehicle insurance, handbag on the passenger seat, my 3 and a half year old boy playing patiently on an equally shiny iPad on the back seat. And I am not experienced at being subtle in dodgy areas. I’m a sitting duck. I could just as well have painted a target on my back.
So what happens? Well, this is South Africa.
As I gesture to the cars around that I’ve broken down, they look at me kindly and drive around and deal with the peak hour traffic in other ways, everyone is accommodating. Phew.
After a few minutes a car pulls up. Out comes a man to check up on me. I explain the situation. He offers to pick up the little one from the crèche. It’s OK I tell him, he’s with his teacher and she’s taken him home with her. So he says he’ll stay with me until he knows I’m safe.
Another 5 minutes pass and another man comes up and asks if he can help. Together, the two push the car out of the middle of the busy junction where I broke down. The second man also chases away some ‘volunteers’ who are clearly more dodgy than helpful.
The second man takes off. Then, a police car arrives. They were just driving past. They ask me if everything’s OK. I explain the situation, they say they’re on their way home after their shift but they’ve called their colleagues and are going to stay with me until the other police car arrives.
After a while, two other police cars arrive and park around me. The first car takes off. At that stage, I have 8 police officers and the first man staying with me just for our safety. They make sure onlookers who have their eyes on my phone and my handbag remain at a distance. They chase away other private tow trucks who are not the one sent by the insurance.
Finally, the tow truck arrives. The insurance company calls me. They want to stay on the line until I’ve confirmed the name of the tow truck driver and his truck registration number. Everything is in order. They pull the car up onto the back of the truck. We take our valuables and my boy and I jump into the front. He’s very excited to go home in a truck 🙂
Before we leave, we thank the police officers who are super kind and visibly take pride in protecting people.
The first man who stopped follows the truck all the way home to make sure we’re OK. There, he leaves his name and phone number so I can call him again if anything is wrong. Then everybody leaves.
I take my husband’s car and we go and pick up my baby from the crèche teacher’s home where he’s been given extra love for an hour and a bit.
Late and tired and exhausted from the adventure, the family is finally safe and sound at home. The concerned neighbours make sure we’re OK on our street whatsapp group.
With a deep sigh of relief, I contemplate being in South Africa.
Sure, it’s a country with lots of challenges and problems, and it’s not cool that one can become an easy target for crime like that but life works here. People here talk to each other. We know our neighbours. People are prepared to take an hour out of their day to help complete strangers who appear vulnerable and they are true friends when we need them.
There are always more good people than not. And that is the South Africa I love to live in.
Author Bio: Carolina Ödman
Carolina Ödman [Physics Engineering M.SC. EPFL 2000 Astrophysics Ph.D. Cambridge 2003 ] is an Astrophysicist and mum of 2.
She works in technology, science, development, hacking (the good kind), and photography.
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