German Willie

So many people in the world have similar names. In different countries of the world the name changes in its pronunciation but the tone stays the same. How many males named Peter, John, Michael, Andrew, William do you know? They could also be Petrus, Johan, Michiel, Andries or Willem or Piedro, Giovanni, Michello, Andreas or Guillaume. Well, seeing as I was christened Willem and that there were umpteen thousands of Willem’s in South Africa I let it be known that I would prefer my name to be Willie. Now I had narrowed the field down to a few thousand only and in my time travelling around in South West Africa a met a few more Willie blokes, including German Willie.

I had taken it upon myself to travel north over a long weekend to see if I could flush out my mate, Tienie. He was working on a construction site somewhere near Tsumeb and had dropped me a note some months before letting me know what he was up to and that the contract in the north was for a limited time only. I set off in my Ford Cortina on the Thursday evening after getting leave for the Friday and including the Monday Public Holiday for my weekend. I got as far as Grootfontein on the first night and stayed over in a Hotel. The next day was a pleasant drive to Tsumeb arriving in this tropical place. Then I needed directions to Aroab before setting off to that destination and arriving there in the late afternoon. After only one enquiry I found out that Tienie and his crew had finished the job and that the company had moved their camp and no one was sure as to where. I didn’t envisage staying overnight at Aroab and after refuelling my car, I decided to head back to Tsumeb in to the setting sun.

Namibian Elephant

Namibian Elephant

It was just on dark when my lights picked up a huge shape moving across the road. I pumped the brakes, which weren’t all that good on the Cortina and skidded to sudden stop as a small herd of elephants trundled over the road in front of me, not even giving me a glance. Or so I imagined. Further down the road more wildlife was to be seen including small antelope and two hyenas.

Cortina of the 1960's

Cortina of the 1960’s

I arrived in Tsumeb at about 9pm and found a room in the hotel. It was too late for dinner but I managed to get a sandwich made at a café and then I went back to the hotel. Feeling bored I decided to check out the bar downstairs. There was much merriment going on and I struck up a conversation with a few blokes.

“Gutenabend meneer” said one, “Veghets? Ich bin Willie en du?”

“Hey, my name is Willie too, but sorry, I cannot speak German, but I do understand a few words, O.K.?”

“Agsoo!” said German Willie, “You must be from the Republic. No matter. Just as well I can speak English too. We accept all here in Tsumeb, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”

German Willie was a jovial bloke, about the same age as me, early twenties, and he ordered me a beer. Expecting a large glass I was stunned when a tumbler, the size of a four pint jug, arrived.

“Now, to be become one of us here in Tsumeb, you have to drink that in one go, yes?”

I must admit that I did partake in the occasional beer, sometimes two occasionally, but this monster was something else. I had only just had a sandwich all day plus some water and a few cigarettes and I eyed my new friends as I started gulping down the amber liquid.

“C’mon, c’mon” they chanted. At one stage I could feel the beer welling up the passages of my nose but I kept on at it and before long, with some dribbles down the front of my shirt, I had devoured the lot.

“Hooray for Willie, Hooray at last, Hooray for Willie, he’s the horses arse! Well done, friend” they exclaimed, “You are now one of us” and they all shook my hand and introduced themselves. I wanted to buy them a beer but they said, “No, you are our guest, tonight” and another four pint jug arrived.

The smoke hung in the bar like a morning mist and the conversation grew louder and louder. We played a few games of snooker and when I was half way through my second tumbler the next one arrived. After that things became a blur and I woke the next morning in my bed fully clothed with a splitting headache. I immediately drank a couple of pints of water, changed my clothes and struggled down to the breakfast room.

Lots of hearty food, more glasses of water and by midday I started to recover. I was just about to go for a walk when the cheerful face of German Willie popped up in front of me.

“Hey my friend” he said cheerfully, “How are you feeling today?” I replied that I wasn’t feeling too hot. He suggested we go down to the pool for a swim and when I agreed we walked over to my car. When he saw I was driving a Cortina his eyes lit up and he said, “I drive one too, but it is the GT!”

So after our swim we spent a couple of hours climbing in and over his GT and going for a spin. His car was very impressive and kept in immaculate condition. Then we decamped back to the pub for a few more beers.

We were sitting around chatting to some girls when one of them invited us out to a party that night on a nearby farm. We said OK and what time etc then they left the pub and we carried on with our beers.

Evening came and dark clouds started to appear and not long after that the rain came pouring down. This was the start of the rainy season and tropical down pours were sometimes fierce. We settled down to more beers however and around 8pm German Willie said that it was time to go out to the farm. I suggested that we take my car but he insisted that we drive in his. It was still raining hard and we got wet getting to the car.

We soon got off the sealed road and were speeding along a very wet and slushy dirt road. German Willie was speeding along the road and I ventured to say “Hey Willie, better slow down a bit”.

His reply was “Nah, I know these roads very well and have been driving them for years in all kinds of weather” The speedo was now reading 75 miles per hour and the road was slippery!

I was becoming increasingly nervous about the speed and the slippery road and was about to say more on the subject when the Cortina lost it’s grip and we started a long sideways slide. The back of the car came around and our momentum propelled us down an embankment and hard into a sloping earth retaining wall. The force of this impact catapulted the Cortina in to the air and we did a complete somersault. In the rollover our heads came together with a thud which was quite painful and momentarily dulled our senses. There were no seat belts in cars in those days but I had braced myself against the seat when I saw what was about to happen and sustained only the head butt.

The car landed with a thud and a splash into a large pool of water which has accumulated behind the retaining wall. The water cushioned the impact and we were lucky not to be hurt. We sat there for a few minutes, stunned. “You OK?” we both ventured at the same time. Surprisingly we had no other injuries except our head butts and egos and surprisingly also, the car’s engine was still running. I suggested that we try to get going again and to get the car out of the water. Even more surprising we had landed on a gravelly surface underneath the water and got some grip from the tyres. The car struggled along the retaining wall and then we found a place where we were able to drive up and over and the gully and back on to the road. There we discovered that the car had three flat tyres. This was most likely why we were able to drive out of the mud and slush. I suggested we change the spare on to the rear together with the front wheel which was still hard. The rain had stopped but we were getting muddier and muddier. Eventually we were mobile again albeit very slowly with the front wheels both flat. Our process was halted when one of the tyres came off the rim. Then, because we had been running the lights to see what we were doing and a very low charge had been going in to the battery, it lost all its power and we were going nowhere. Darkness encircled us.

After a while another vehicle came along and gave Willie ride in to town while I stayed with the car. Luckily there were a few beers left and it was a mild night. I waited and waited. No other traffic came past and I fell asleep on the backseat of the car. I awoke with the sun beaming in to my face and the sound of a vehicle approaching. German Willie had rounded up some of his mates and arrived with two fresh wheels and a new battery. They were very cheerful but I was feeling seedy and not in the mood for banter. We got back to Tsumeb by mid morning and I slept for the rest of the day. By evening I was down in the bar again with German Willie and his mates but the mood was more sombre this time and we drinking slower this time around. Before the pub closed I bid farewell to German Willie and his mates as I was going back to Windhoek in the morning and made a timely retreat back to my room.

The return journey was long and boring but I kept reliving the events of the past three days and that kept my spirits up until I arrived back at the boarding house where I was living.

Posted in Life Stories.