Only in Africa


While filling up with diesel at a dilapidated petrol station in Tanzania, I came across the most ill treated car I have ever seen. The car in question was an under loved, overloaded 1980ís Land Drover, jam packed with what would appear to have been about 12 or 14 passengers, however it was really hard to tell, as every inch of window space was blotted out by their occupancy. The roof rack was piled high with bags, blankets and a goat, even doubling the actual height of the car under the strained suspension.

As if there were not enough, , five more men scrambled after her and climbed up a ladder at the back, as the fully laden Drover pulled away towards the road. They nonchalantly seated themselves amongst the existing Everest of roof top luggage, wrestling with the goat for a prime seating position. Although the car was protesting against the eight of her burdensome load, the Landie managed to gathering speed on the open road. Caught by the gusting wind speed, suddenly one of the illegal roof top passengers lost his hat. It was no ordinary looking hat. Anywhere else in the world, this top hat would be out of place, but here in Africa, it seemed to make a rather grand fashion statement. The
hat was black with a khaki band, new and well kept. Fluttering momentarily as if suspended in time, the hat eventually come to a dead rest in the road.

I expected a shout from the roof and the car to come to a screeching halt, but the Landie kept going and the hat was up for grabs. Bystanders nearby made a mad scramble after it. Our first contestant was a chubby petrol attendant. He made an initial gallant dash after the hat but gave up all efforts once he reached the top of the gravel embankment. His instant yet sluggish approach would head no victory, as he was already completely out of breath. A motorbike, passenger and all, had pulled over and was cautiously approaching the abandoned hat. His approach was little too careful and he was blind sided by the victorís more surreptitious and speedy advance. At the last second, just as the motorbike driver straddled the hat and was about to claim his prize, the hat was literally scooped up from between his balancing legs.

Our champion was young and agile, nimble and quick on his feet. He had been at a nearby shop, leaning against the wall in the shade. Although first on the scene, the motorbike driver had thought the prize was his, but our sprinting hat grabber had already trotted off triumphantly with a hint of mock in each step of his victorious stride. He showed brave contempt towards the angry growls and aggressive finger wagging of the motorbike driver who turned out to be a sore loser in this, the random chase after a lost hat. Only in Africa!

K Letcher

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