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02 Sep 2009 06:00
Africa’s diehard entrepreneurial spirit leaves Mgcini Nyoni feeling both impressed and a little older
A few days ago I bought a second-hand bed for the spare bedroom on auction and my feet still hurt.
Not from the auction: they do the feet no harm, nor the mind, and certainly not the pocket either with all those hard-to-resist bargains.
But the base of the bed was made of solid oak—the way they used to make them: strong and meant to last a lifetime—and that alone meant the bed was almost impossible to get off the ground.
So after completing the paperwork on my bargain, I tried to find a car to transport the bed to my house—about 10km from the centre of Bulawayo.
But there were no cars to be had and I loudly voiced my disappointment. One of the young men seated outside the auction house with his scania—slang for pushcart—asked me where I wanted to go.
When I told him Luveve, he seemed genuinely surprised. ‘ELuveve la?” he said—‘Luveve is not far”. He jumped to his feet and turned around his scania and it dawned on me that he planned to put my very solid oak bed on this flimsy cart—a metal box frame balancing precariously on two wheels with a long handle and small steering wheel—and push it 10km to my house.
I asked him how much he would charge for it and he said R70. I couldn’t help smiling to myself: Africa—do whatever it takes to put food on the family’s table and do it with a smile.
I have seen this diehard entrepreneurial spirit all over the continent and it always leaves me thoroughly impressed.
The young man’s proposition seemed crazy, but his enthusiasm bowled me over. ‘Just give me your address, mdala, and go and catch yourself a taxi. I will be there in no time at all.”
Why he called me ‘mdala” is a mystery. Mdala means old man and I have just turned 29. Have the youth developed a new lingo I’m not aware of?
Has the fact that I listen to jazz while my peers listen to house and kwaito condemned me to old-man status? I am decades away from earning that salutation and the real madalas actually address me as mfana wami—my boy.
After getting over the swipe at my youthful ego, I thought his proposition over and decided it would be madness to trust the young man to take my prized new possession on his own.
But the alternative was equally outrageous: I am totally out of shape and trotting in the hot sun for 10km is not my idea of fun.
But what option did I have? We loaded the bed on to his scania and with an almighty push the young man set off at a blistering pace.
Within minutes I was struggling to keep up, but it was not a manly thing to admit so. While every muscle in my body was cramping up, he was pushing the groaning scania and merrily chattering away.
I had to hold on to the cart to avoid being outpaced by an embarrassing number of metres, jogging most of the time to keep up.
After nearly an hour of this torture I requested a break. ‘You will rest in the shade, mdala. Just give me R10 ngithenge esincane ebhawa [to buy a small mug of beer in the bar].”
While I recuperated in the shade of a big fig tree, I was formulating a speech for the young man about not drinking on the job, blah blah—taking it upon my youthful shoulders to reprimand the youth for their wayward ways.
Little wonder he was calling me mdala. He came out of the bar merrier than before. ‘Ready to go, mdala?” I nodded and he quickly got hold of his scania. I totally forgot about reprimanding him. ‘We will take it easy this time, mdala.”
His pace convinced me that we had different definitions of ‘taking it easy”. He then settled into a monologue about his career as a delivery guy.
‘You know, mdala, I have a wife and a very young child. Some of my friends are ashamed to be seen pushing the scania. But me, I do not mind at all. Don’t I buy my own beer? [I had just bought him a mug of beer.] I can take care of my own family.”
He was quiet for a moment. ‘Sometimes I wonder why I am not as successful as other people. Is it because I drink? But it can’t be — there are a lot of people who drink and they drive their own cars.” He vowed he would make it one day.
We got to my place about 30 minutes later and, despite the aches and pains all over my body, I smiled as I watched him trot off in search of another customer.
I got a neighbour to help me put the bed in the spare bedroom and it was a perfect match for the antique suite I bought years back.
The spare bedroom looks so nice now I’m almost looking forward to my grandmother’s visit. I know she will approve.
Mgcini Nyoni is a poet, writer and theatre practitioner based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
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