To get to Carimo’s workshop you have to make a sudden turn from the road and then climb up a rutted track. You arrive quite suddenly, and find yourself staring back at the vacant-eyed ghosts of Mbabane’s motoring past – parked row upon row. Next to the gate, overlooking the road, stands a retired tow-truck. In theory it could still do the job more than well Carimo tells me, but fuelling it got too expensive. Now it is forlorn monument to the times when all you needed was a robust engine, not a fuel-efficient one.
Within reason. For while folk in richer nations are buying Smarts and Priuses, or otherwise feeling guilty about driving at all, we took a giant leap backward when we moved to Swaziland. No, we did not buy a Hummer. Not quite. Ours is one of those imposing beasts capable of ramping up pavements and squashing other cars if it came to that. I confess I am not a car person, never have been. I was inordinately fond of my first car (a Citi Golf), but that was mainly because of the adventures we shared. I haven’t owned a car since then. Until now. We tell ourselves it is necessary in Swaziland given the pot holes and the trips we hope we’ll take to places off the beaten track. However we wince inwardly from time to time.
For my sins, I am often forced to make this journey to Carimo’s motors. I would say at least once a month. Once Carimo knows you well enough. That is, once you have spent a good few thousand in his workshop, he’ll tell you the story of how he won a drag race in the 1972 BMW that’s parked there. What were the other contestants driving? “Oh Mazdas, Golfs…But I won.” He gives the engine he used to soup it up contentedly.
Have you ever seen a 1972 BMW? I can’t recall that I have. What must have been a later model was all over our roads growing up. You know the low-slung, vaguely shark-like competitor to the farmer’s Mercedes. The 1972 edition has a truncated, box like look about it. Imagine a fiat with a BMW insignia. It is the Herbie of luxury cars, so cute you want to take it home, give it a bath and tuck it into bed. Instead it spends its nights watching the stray dogs of Sidwashi limping about in packs. Sidwashini is an “industrial estate” down the hill from where we live. It harbours an incongruous mix of mechanical workshops and churches. Churches with names like “Mega Church”. It is hard to see where the Mega Church can be conducting these mega-services since all you see from the street are makeshift garages crowded together behind corrugated iron fences.
Although Carimo is clearly of Indian descent, his workshop is clustered with prayers to Jesus. Pride of place is given, however, to the most disturbing family portrait I’ve ever seen. Carimo, his wife and two very sulky looking children are made to look very pale, dull-eyed and peaky indeed. Also sad. I often wonder how the picture came to be. Carimo is a small, wiry man with quick, bright eyes. He moves quickly and nods a lot. Sixteen years ago he came from Mozambique and made a life in Mbabane. He built a large house on the hilltop above his garage close to our house. He takes me past it. The walls are topped with a layer of broken glass. These days he rents it out to people from the UN he explains. His children have left home and he and his wife now live on a smallholding, alone except for their maid. His wife works for the UN or some related body. Carimo drives an old Toyota bakkie that smells of cigarettes and grease. Its suspension is completely buggered. His wife drives their Pajero. They have been successful. He doesn’t like to talk about Mozambique I’ve noticed. His friend, Antonio (who fixes car alarms) is the exact opposite. Antonio (who is almost completely deaf) likes to tell me which parts of my car are likely to be ripped off on my next trip to Mozambique. Apparently thieves there are especially fond of side mirrors. Every time I visit Maputo I wonder if I’ll return without them but in fact, they’re practically the only part of our car I haven’t had to replace.