Yesterday I was obliged to push-start my old landcruiser. Not having too many places to go in Outpost, unless am accompanied by husband in which case we take his infinitely more reliable and signifcantly less ancient car, landcruiser hasn’t been driven for a bit and battery was flat.
Push starting isn’t a problem. I’m as used to it as the old banger is. But space is. My driveway – I use the term loosely – is about 6 metres long.
There will be enough room, announced garden boy James, if you know what you’re doing, Mama.
I know that, James, I said observing lack of length doutbfully.
James, the Askari, who had woken up with all the excitement of James instructing me how to get my car started and I, attempt to push the car out up and backwards out of the shortest driveway in Africa. We aren’t terribly successful, the car grunts in manner of old lady irritated to be woken from a lengthy nap and shifted only inches.
Weka free, Mama, weka free! instructs James bossily. It is free I yell back, “See!”, I say rattling the gear shift to demonstrate the car’s in neutral.
OK, says James, I’ll get Asina, and he races off to the kitchen. Asina and James loyally followed us to Outpost because I hiked their salaries by about three times. Asina is endlessly pragmatic (when I misplace car keys she says, in tones of eternally patient mother, ”well they can’t have gone far, you haven’t been anywhere today”) and utterly tactless about her new home, ”the people here are very lazy and stupid”, she says, ”not like in Arusha”.
Anyhow, Asina comes to assist and with a heave-ho we get the car rolling whilst James shouts instructions as to whether I ought to pull steering wheel (from my pushing position at the driver’s door) down a little or left a bit.
Our first attempt fails. Just as I thought, the drive really wasn’t long enough to get enough speed up.
We’ll open the gates, says James, and push you out onto the road behind the house, that’ll give you more room to get going and then you can park the car like the bwana told you to, in the garage.
Right, I say, hoping to sound confident. Hat, who has been plucking naajis off a tree by the gate, wisely moves towards the house.
The gates are opened with great ceremony by the Askari (gate opening is his job after all, important he puts his all into it) and we begin again, huffing and puffing and pushing the old bird up the slight incline with James, who by the way is no more than 5 ft tall and weighs about 100 lbs, giving instructions as to how I ought turn the wheel again.
Then, in full view of anybody who happens to be outside in the lane – including the entire working population of the local Anglican diocese from whom we rent this house and whose office is right next door – I leap into the driving seat, James, Asina and the Askari pushing like mad and James yelling at the top of his voice, ”fasta mama, fasta”!
With only feet to spare before I take the garage out, the car shudders to life.
Now don’t turn it off, says James, or we’ll have to do that all over again tomorrow.
I don’t plan to: turn it off, or repeat the exercise. Hat creeps cautiously out to inspect any damage and resume naaji harvest, car belts filthy black smoke into our neighbourhood and I wonder – not for the first time since I got to Outpost – precisely what my role is here and whose in charge.
Not me today, that’s for sure.