Yesterday morning was a normal Sunday morning for us.
We had a bit of a relaxing breakfast and got everyone ready for corporate worship time. It was our second week attending Life Church in Sea Point (Cape Town). It's an incredibly alive community with a true African rainbow congregation. We're blessed to have found exactly what we were looking for after only one not-so-great attempt. Thank you, Jesus!
Our house in Camps Bay is incredible, french doors open from our dining room to a almost wrap around deck that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. We've been able to see many a whale pod and large schools of dolphins right from our deck. There are so many great things to say about this house. We're smack dab in the middle of a sliver of land between the ocean and Table Mountain. Out one side we see massive waves, dolphins and whales and plenty of cargo ships. Out another side we see the surreal beauty that is Table Mountain looming up at our back. It's incredible to be here. We routinely schedule a deck cleaning in York and our place always looks neat and shiny.
However there are two challenges. And they come with the location (Camps Bay). Imagine having a town where one edge is at sea level and the other is the edge of a mountain. The houses are all on hills with switchbacks for roads (and sometimes driveways). Visit this page to see it.
Challenge #1 There are a ton of steps from our front door to our garage... we're always out of breath when we arrive at our front door....especially if we are carrying a child or 4-5 bags of groceries.
Challenge #2 Going for a stroll in the neighborhood is more like mountaineering.
So yesterday was a typical Sunday morning, and in the last 15 minutes there's a bunch of flurry of activity getting everyone out the door. No bad attitudes, no yelling, none of that, just steadily getting shoes on, clothes ready, hair done etc. And we're off! Down the plethora of stairs. When we got to the bottom Becky reminded me of something that I forgot, so back up I went. And then back down again. No worries, we've got plenty of time. Besides, this is Africa, and most things operate on African time which means you're never really late. We got everyone into the van, buckled, and settled.
I went to start the van.
I tried 4 or 5 times. As if on the 3rd time the click click click I head from the engine compartment was a fluke and I'm sure it'll start on the 4th time. (I'm not as smart as I'd like to be. ) Becky and I look at each other, the kids start rooting for going back up the mountain of stairs to our house. The van is a rental so I'm sure I could call the company and get a jump. I begin looking for the rental company phone number in my phone. No dice again. It's gonna take me 15 minutes to go back up, find the paperwork, and get the number. Then Becky mentions the gas station at the entrance to our neighborhood (downhill from us!). Good idea! I'm certain that we can get the van down the hill to the station and get jumped before I could even find the rental company's number and then we'd still have to wait for a tow truck. So I simply remove the handbrake (yes, it's uphill into our garage as well) and the van starts rolling out into our street. No power steering, no power breaking we start gaining speed heading downhill. We are going 10 MPH, then 15, MPH, then 25 MPH, perhaps we even crested 35 MPH, which feels out of control when you don't have power steering or breaking and there is no engine running... trying to get out of any potential accidents at this point isn't going to happen!
We passed by a couple on their morning walk and at the last second I pretended to do a voice over for them asking "Hey, is that an electric van? It was really really quiet!"
However, without issue we pulled into the gas station with the attendants giving us very strange looks. Oh, and you must know that most gas stations here are full service. You don't get out of your vehicle, just pull up and they'll check the oil, clean the windows and full up the petrol. So I hopped out of the van (with a load of kids in the back who just experienced the coolest, quietest ride ever) and I asked if they had jumper cables and a way to jump my van since I had a dead battery. The attendants pointed to the store and explained that it was closed. I could see the batteries inside the store, but they said as they pointed to their stall "We don't sell batteries." "But I don't want a battery, I just need a jump" I replied knowing that I was speaking english with english speakers but also knowing that "needing a jump" could mean something very different than what I was intending! They caught on but kinda shrugged me off.
It was at that moment that my knight in shining armor rode in on his trusty steed--or more accurately an Afrikaaner in a white baki (pickup truck). I asked him if he had cables and if he could give me a jump. He said he did and could help. After the seemingly interminable time it took for him to turn around, he got his jumper cables out and while handing them to the attendant he asked: "Do you sell gas?" The gas station attendants responded, "No"
Incredulously, I said "Then what do you sell?" In my mind: I get that it's Sunday and you don't sell batteries or jumper cables, and I'd be okay if you didn't sell gas on a Sunday either, but then why are you here working if you're not selling gas?
For a moment I thought I was the smart one and they weren't.
After a interesting game of charades and british versus american english I realized he was asking for LP (gas) and this station only sold petrol (unleaded gas).
At that point I was reminded that I'm not from here, and they have their own way of doing things, so I stood back and watched as the attendant hooked up the jumper cables and amidst a series of huge sparks (he didn't know that you should connect the dead battery first and keep the ends separate after connected!) I witnessed them jumping our van.
We we're off and made it to church in perfect time.
It's a funny story, but it made me realize that I had grown comfortable here. I had forgotten that even though everyone speaks english I don't speak their language (dialect).
I still hear myself saying it--a little too uncomfortably loud,
"Then what do you sell?"
Ug, I'll never be able to take that one back.
What funny cross cultural stories and experience have you had? Share them with us in the comments below. Seriously, I need to hear them so I know I'm not alone! :)