On the day when Jon Morton took our family to mountain and took this picture we ate lunch at a chinese restaurant.  I know, eating Chinese food when in Ethiopia sounds messed up, but really one can only handle so much Injera before one must look elsewhere for sustenance.  I already can see the comments coming.  “I love Injera and could eat it every day” followed by “I hate the stuff! It makes me want to gag”  You either love or hate the squishy-tangy-panckacie Ethiopian staple food, but whichever side you fall on, you need to branch out eventually.

International cuisine choices aside, on this particular day we had chosen Chinese food, because you see, Jon is one of those people who is infinitely cooler than our family is, and I think we were trying to impress him with a little variety.  (In hindsight, perhaps Chinese food was not the best choice to show of ones culinary prowess)

As we were leaving the restaurant, we piled Jon and the family back into the Swagger Wagon, our van that we named Grace and tried to head on our way so Jon could take pictures and make our family look cool like him.  Only Grace was not in the mood to start, she is a bit temperamental, and at times likes to show off her complete power over our transportation.

Never once has she decided that she did not want to start at our house. Oh no!  That would be way to easy for us, because we could simply head back in the house and change our plans.   But when we are out, say with guests, or when something has happened and we need to get out of a situation in a hurry… Grace thinks those are good times not to start her engine.

Grace is sort of a prissy thing.

I tried the key several times and then proceeded to try the trick that I had recently mastered. With one foot sticking out onto the pavement, and pushing the car back as hard as I can and the other pumping the gas, one hand on the stick ready to jam it into gear and the other on the ignition, we often are able to coax Grace into starting.  It’s not a full jump start that she needs most of the time, just a little “encouragement”.   Thankfully it worked, and Jon did not have his camera out for that particularly embarrassing moment.

We named our car Grace because, well first of all we are the kind of people who name cars, and second, we felt that just to have a car in Ethiopia is by the grace of God alone. The tax rate makes it nearly impossible purchase anything, let along a vehicle that will run.  The other reason we picked the name was that she just has a graceful air about her.  (although in later we realized that we might have mistaken her arrogance for grace)

Before I go off on Grace, I need to tell you another story of when her engine really could-have, no should-have started… But did not.

It was only a few weeks after we had bought her, we were still getting to know all the little “tricks”, and working out the kinks that are inevitably present in a thirty year old car.  Already I had used a half of a roll of duct tape on various parts of the interior and engine compartment and the gap between the sliding door and the ground had eaten up three books, a frisbee, several toys and was providing for a nice layer of dust to cover our children after each drive down the dirt road to our house. But we were thankful to not be taking taxis or renting a car any more.

The issue we were working on this particular day was the back right tire that was starting to bulge. We were headed out as a family to find a new set of tires for Grace’s rear end. After several shops told us they did not carry Grace’s size tires, we found ourselves in Kera;  a part of town that is… lets just say a little rough around the edges (and the middle).

I pulled the car up to the sidewalk, using my fancy parallel parking skills that I honed while living on the hilly streets of San Francisco.  (you can ask my wife; I have always been maybe just a bit too proud of my parallel-parking-prowess) One quick maneuver backwards, a few smooth spins on the wheel at exactly the right time and we are in the spot that is only slightly larger than the van itself.  I turned off the engine and started to open the door.

“I will be just a minute” I say to Jessie who rolls her eyes at the comedy in my statement.

“Just get it done” She replies with a coy smile.

Before I get my feet onto the ground I notice a man in front of the car who is gesturing to me.  Something about how close I am to the car parked ahead of us.  I quickly release the parking brake and let Grace roll back down the hill slightly. Just as I do this a bus pulls up next to my window and people start unloading into the small space between the vehicles.  One of the men steps out and mistakenly places his foot directly underneath the front tire of the car, and of coarse I then roll the car onto his foot!

He screams, starts pulling on his stuck leg and begins hammering his hands into the side of the car as hard as he can.

At this point I am trying to remain calm, but am thinking “Holy crap! I just ran over this guy’s leg”

I roll back some more and his foot comes loose.  I open the door and can see that thankfully only his shoe was under the car, his foot itself is fine, and despite my worst fears, his leg has not fallen off.

The guy though is pissed as heck.  He starts screaming at me, and keeps hitting the car as hard as he can.

“My shoe” He keeps yelling at me in Amharic.  “You have to buy my shoe!”

I don’t know if you have ever been in Africa before and seen the way things escalate, but it is a lot like a tornado when it does.  You can be all calm, strolling along on a beautiful day, and… BAM!  A crowd of 100 people gather in nothing flat.

It has only been about thirty-seconds since I ran over this guy’s foot, but there are already about 50 people around us and more are coming in every second.   I see that if we do not get out of here fast, we are going to be in trouble.  I hop back in the car, ready to make my speedy getaway.

Grace decides… Oh yes, you guessed it.  She is not in the mood to start right now.   I turn the key… Click.   I take it out, flip it over, push it harder this time…


Nothing happens at all.

I glance over at Jessie and see a look of terror in her eyes.  Here we are, in the middle of a massive crowd of angry people, the whole family in the car.  And we cannot go anywhere.

At this point I was out of ideas.  If I got out of the car and into the angry crowd, I had no idea what I would face.  But if we stayed here in the car, we just looked like a stupid family of foreigners who are powerless to help ourselves.  (which we are)

Without thinking I grabbed some cash out of my pocket and shoved it into the hand of the guy who had just found his way under my tire.  “Here, take this” I said as he took the money.

“Too small!”  He said as he shoved the bills back at me and continued to scream about the terrible infraction I had committed against him.

“Here” I said, as I pulled out a few more bills and handed them to him.  (At this point totaling somewhere around $20 US Dollars)

Just then a man appeared from the sidewalk and said in clear English over the noise in the crowd.

“Is everything okay?”

“No!” I replied.  “I ran over his foot, and now it’s getting all crazy.”

He makes his way over to the front of the car and unleashes a stream of Amharic that intimidated even me who could not understand a word he was saying. Whatever it was, it worked.  The crowd backed away in a few minutes and the guy who had been run over turned and walked away.  Apparently the money I had given him was enough now that someone was here to help us.

Turns out the guy who came to our rescue was an Ethiopian who lived in Atlanta for several years, and he just happened to be at the right place at the right time.  (Thank God!)

Anyhow, I wanted to introduce you to Grace, a friend of ours who we love/hate.  She is good to us on most days, and we are thankful that she gets us where we need to go.

We used to call her Grace because God’s grace in giving her to us, now though, it is by the grace of God that she starts when we need her to.

Truly though, I am not complaining here, we are more than thankful to have a car, and love that all of the kids get to be in seat belts.  When we first moved here we had a VW Bug for our family car, and with four kids there was nothing about driving that thing that was safe.