The Joys Of An African Carwash

Motlabana Monnakgotla
Published 5 years ago

It’s a Sunday morning at home, in Dobsonville, Soweto; the day after my little sister’s 10th birthday party. The mechanic, who’d come to replace my car’s brake pads, could tell, by the empty beer cans in the boot and the stench of cigarette smoke, the size of the party my friends and I pursued after the little ones left. I knew at that moment that I had to go to the carwash to cleanse body, car, and soul.

A carwash is that place at the side of the road, not only for cleansing, but also eating, drinking and socializing. There are thousands in Africa and most Sundays they are packed.

I was not alone. My neighbor had a similar hangover. He looked like he had slept in the car when he rolled up his garage door. It turned out, he had.

“Sho magents” (hi gentlemen) are his first words when he sees us busy with the car. We answered back in laughter talking about the previous night and discussing the schedule for the day. All roads led to the carwash, the most important job after breakfast – after filling the cooler-box with beer in case there was a long queue of cars.

The first person we see is the owner, Thethani – meaning talk in isiXhosa. He is nicknamed Titanic because it almost sounds the same. He named the carwash after himself. Around five cars are waiting.

“Botle bo” (that beauty) is the greeting from Titanic as we drive in, it’s his business slogan. He is loud and bubbly and customers enjoy his company – one of the reasons they come.

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On this sunny Sunday, we are lucky, there is no queue. We park and take a bench in the shade before buying tripe for breakfast. We meet an old man, sitting alone, looking like he’s in his 60s; his face looks unfriendly, but respectable. To break the ice, we ask if he didn’t mind us lighting a cigarette.

It opens a can of worms. The man tells us about his life, including smoking cannabis, spending a few years in jail and having affairs with younger women. He tells us how he handles being a family man, being the head of the household and marrying off his children. The carwash, at that moment, feels like a classroom, while cars and taxis are hooting as they drive past on the busy road with loud music playing.

We are seated with folded arms listening to the teacher and asking questions, trying to understand his life and learn from it.

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The man with the stories sees his car is clean. We stand up, taking turns to shake his hand. We are now friends with the old man and talking about meeting up next Sunday for another wash and maybe a story. The employees whistle to move our car as well.

Our cooler-box is emptying fast. It is time to leave and the next stop is the barbershop, just a short drive on the long road; we have to look good for Monday to mask the weekend revelry. All for $17 on a Sunday.

The haircut done, the cooler-box empty, the car clean and the stomach full, it is the end of the weekend and time to head home. A lovely Sunday indeed.

Related Topics: #Africa, #carwash, #Entrepreneur, #Soweto.