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South Africa

Discovering the way real people live in other countries is the best part of this job, even when their lives are sad stories.  I have often learned important life lessons from those who don’t realize they are teaching me.

One Saturday I hired a car and driver so I could see the countryside.   We visited two small game reserves and had fun feeding the monkeys that weren’t behind bars.  We drove through the mountains dotted with shantytowns to a beach village where we indulged in a gourmet lunch. 

But the real highlight of the day was the driver.  He had two older sisters, and his parents were about to divorce because his father wanted a boy.  Then he was born, and his mother named him, appropriately, Welcome.  She told him he was blessed because she had another boy after him.

Welcome was kind and gentle.  He told me touching stories of his life.  Unable to find work, he spent his weeks waiting for AVIS to call.  They usually called only on weekends. His workdays were long.  He would get up early to pick up the car, drive all day, and have to clean and vacuum the car before leaving.   Then he would walk 15 miles home.

 

I delighted in watching Welcome enjoy the game reserves, something he never had the money to do.  The three-course lunch I bought him was a lifetime first.  He would often go all day without eating because he could only do so after receiving his pay at the end of the day. Most times he could only afford milk and bread for himself; the rest of the money was for his family.

I paid AVIS the equivalent of $2.50 an hour for him and he got just $1 an hour.  My tip was larger than his salary, and his gratitude was heartwarming.  He told me he would always remember that day.  So would I.