I had a pigeon poop on my shoulder recently while at an outdoor café in Pretoria, South Africa. It was a moist slushy dollop about 2cm in diameter and it dissolved quickly into the fleece I was wearing. I had just ordered coffee for Wendy and I to have while we discussed our recent run-in with a used car salesman up the road.
I called the waitress over to get something to wipe away the little message. When I explained to her what had happened she replied, “You're lucky!” I thought perhaps that she was joking because the poop had missed my head. When I asked her what she meant she said that according to her culture (Zulu) when a pigeon poops on you it is a sign of good luck. Intrigued by her answer I called over her colleague and asked him what it means if a pigeon poops on you. Without hesitation and with an air of awe in his voice, he replied “You're lucky!”
The strange thing was I didn’t feel that lucky. For one thing we had just driven 1700 km to look at a vehicle only to be yelled at by the used car manager for daring to ask for a slight discount.
But feelings are subjective aren’t they? What are the facts? Let me explain how the next few days unfolded for us so that you can be the judge of whether you think ‘I am lucky’.
After being yelled at by the used car manager, we left the show room not knowing what to do, as we had no other leads and hence the need for coffee. That evening, however, I found another vehicle on a local web site. When I went to look at it the next day I found that it was in better condition, had done less kilometres, was priced lower and the salesman was even nice to me. Boy, I thought, ‘lucky’ that I didn’t buy the vehicle the day before!
But several things needed to happen before we could take the vehicle back to Malawi. First we had to pay for it. Then it had to be inspected by the police to make sure that it wasn’t stolen. Then we needed to get it deregistered and cleared for export by the customs department.
I promptly arranged for the money to be sent electronically from Australia. Unfortunately, Mike the used car salesman, gave me wrong bank account details in which to deposit the money. This meant that Mr. Ling in Shanghai, China suddenly saw his bank balance increase by $20,000, only for it to whisked away again a day or so later. Obviously pigeon poop means something completely different to the Chinese! Once the missing money issue was sorted out, Mike, (which is not an alias) sent the vehicle for inspection by the police and for deregistration. Mike told me that I was ‘in luck’, as his friend had a business, which handled these sorts of clearances. Unfortunately, Mike mistakenly gave him the wrong registration papers and so they spent two days trying to clear our vehicle using the papers of another vehicle! Both of these incidents put us about 4 days behind schedule.
Mike’s friend’s clearing business is called “Red Tape”. Despite their name they were just not able to cut through the South African bureaucracy. This was unfortunate as after nine days our guest-house manager told us that we had to leave as he had other guests coming to stay. This put us under a bit of pressure as you can imagine. But just as we were wondering what to do, Mike called to say that there had been a break-through. In the end I discovered that it wasn’t “Red Tape’s” business acumen, which cut through the red tape but the offer of a free lunch for the government official!
In possession of the vehicle and the necessary permits (with a few breadcrumbs and mayonnaise stains on them), we set out for the South African and Zimbabwean border. Unfortunately it was 5.30 pm on a weeknight when we set out and so we were caught in rush hour traffic in a city of 9 million people! We eventually arrived at our destination at 12.15 am. Fortunately, we had booked ahead and so we found our room still vacant. The next morning we were up early in order to be at the border post by 7.00 am to begin the process of exporting our vehicle. We used a clearing agent on both sides of the border to help speed up the process. Even so it took us 11 hours to get through. “You are lucky”, Lovemore, the clearing agent said, “some times it can take 2 or 3 days!”
After our long ordeal we decided to rest for the night about an hour inside the Zimbabwean border. Unfortunately, one of the vehicles in our party took the wrong turn shortly outside of the border-post and so we spent several hours driving around searching for them. The next day we had a slow start because of the events of the day before. A few hours into the trip, a truck, coming the opposite direction, threw up a stone and smashed the windscreen of our new vehicle, showering my son Benjamin and I with small particles of glass. Looking at the huge indent in the windscreen and at the quickly spreading crack, Benjamin said, “Wow, dad that was fortunate, we could have been killed!” “Yeh”, I said, “We could have been,” while contemplating how we had managed to be at that place on the road, at that time, when that particular truck was passing with that rock in its tires. Hmm! We had just replaced a windscreen on another vehicle while in South Africa at a cost of US$250.
It took us another two days of driving to reach Malawi, including a five-hour wait at the border to exit from Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately our clearing agent, ‘God Knows Jombo’, wasn’t fully engaged with our job. In fact we were thinking most of the time that only God really knew where ‘God Knows’ was, as for certain we didn’t.
Finally, we made it back to Malawi and after a good night’s sleep I went to enquire about a replacement windscreen for the new vehicle. “You're in luck,” the salesman said, “We have one in stock and it is only US$1,100”. “Yeh”, I answered while thinking of my once soiled shoulder, “I guess I really am lucky!”