Sunday, December 14, 2008


I remember one day last summer, my dad called my brother and me outside to teach us how to change a flat tire.

“I don’t see the point,” I said. “I’ll never have to change a tire.”

“What do you mean?” asked my dad. “What if you’re driving somewhere and you get a flat tire?”

“Someone will stop and change it for me. I’ll never have to do it myself,” I said.

“Kate, someday, you could be in Africa, in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles away from civilization, and your car could break down. Imagine, you’re in the jungle with lions, and no cars ever pass there. What if the only way to survive was to change the tire yourself?” my dad said.

“Someone would come help me,” I said confidently. “They always do. I will never have to worry about that.”

Sure enough, I sat daintily on the curb, trying not to dirty my white dress, and watched as my fifteen-year-old brother did all the work in changing the tire.

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to learn how to change it yourself?” my dad pleaded, changing tactics. “Just in case?”

“Um, no. I’m much better at being a damsel in distress than changing a flat tire,” I said. I winked at my brother, my knight of the day.

I thought about that conversation today when I found myself, like my father warned, on the side of an African road with a flat tire. I was in the Rav4 with Sister Juliana driving, speeding down the road from Kumasi to Accra, basically in the middle of nowhere, when we heard a loud popping noise and the car swerved a bit. The back right tired had blown out. Juliana eased on the brakes, and we slowed to a stop. I remembered my dad’s admonition... but then I remembered my rebuttal, and I wasn’t worried.

I didn’t have to stand next to the car pretending to read the manual until someone pulled over to check on me. I didn’t have to put on lipstick and my best damsel face and wave a signal of distress to approaching young male drivers. I didn’t have to do anything at all.

We just happened to have stopped in a tiny, tiny village that covered, at most, a quarter of a mile of the highway. Sure enough, before we could even open the car doors to get out, several sturdy villagers surrounded our car. I think the fact that Sister Juliana is a nun and I’m an American made us automatic damsels. The men quickly changed the tire for us, while we stood next to the car and watched along with the small crowd of villagers who had come to see what the commotion was about. I waved at the village children who had all gathered to gawk at me while whispering amongst themselves something about the “obruni.”

Oh, and this crazy old man kept waving at me, calling to me. I couldn’t tell if he was saying “wifey” or “whitey,” but I kind of took offense to both, so I ignored him until he came up and grabbed my hand. “I’m called King Solomon!” he ranted. “Please do not forget me! In the name of the almighty God, do not forget me!”

“Um, okay,” I said, and was a bit relieved when they had finished changing the tire for us so we could go. I waved goodbye to the villagers, thinking to myself that our stopping there must have been the most exciting thing to happen all day, and actually, since I’m white, possibly all week.

Once we were on the road again, I told Sister Juliana the story of my dad’s unsuccessful attempt to teach me to be self-sufficient in automotive matters.

“We’re lucky we stopped in the village,” she said, “otherwise, we would have had to change it ourselves.”

“Nope. Someone would have stopped and helped us,” I said with all the self-assurance in the world. “They always do. I make a pretty good damsel.”

1 comment:

JMJDave said...

Ok, you win! Even on an African road in the middle of nowhere. I concede...

Although there wasn't any lions... ;-)