Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Friend Gift

Written in New York City while sitting at a Starbucks. Yum. Starbucks.

This post is not about how I am gifted in the art of making friends. This is a story about how I made a new friend, named Gift. 

I met Gift a few weeks ago when I parked in the lot where he was working. I had parked there so that I could go for a run. As an aside Mr. Deep and I are training for a half marathon and running has been taking up a lot of our free time. In my case however running has has not been taking up nearly as much of my time as it should be. I have not been committed to my training as much as Mr. Deep has or as much as I should be. Anyway, on the day I met Gift I had finished running and I was standing by my car, drinking my water and concentrating on not throwing up when Gift came over and we started talking.  After a few minutes of chatting about the weather, Gift told me he was hoping to get a better job and he asked me if I knew of anything. I was impressed by his initiative because if you have ever looked for a job you know it's all in the networking. Gift explained that he came to South Africa from Zimbabwe three months ago and he said he does not have a permit to work in South Africa. He told me he has a drivers license and maybe even a commercial drivers license (sometimes it's hard to understand.) I promised to keep my ears open for him. He gave me his phone number so if I heard of anything I could let him know via whatsapp. We've been friends ever since chatting frequently on whatsapp.

Gift works as a car guard, which means to make a living he stands in a parking lot and guards the cars that are parked there. Car guards are employed in nearly every parking lot in the part of South Africa where we live.  Their job is to watch your car while you're inside shopping, working, eating or whatever. The car guards are not paid a salary and rely solely on customer tips. If that were not bad enough, what I learned from talking to Gift, is that the guards have to pay to work. Yes, you read correctly. Car guards pay a daily fee to some type of boss, a person who I think there is a special spot reserved for in hell, to rent the area of the parking lot that they are covering. Gift pays R25 per day so that he can guard cars. He told me that on a good day, if he is assigned to a busy section of the lot and if a lot of people are out shopping he can earn R100. However, I have seen the lot where he works and I would be surprised if he earns R100 in a day very often. Between the R25 he pays as his fee, plus his transportation to and from work, I estimate that sometimes he can take home about R50 which equals $3.50 USD. He said if it's a really bad day, and if a guard can't pay the R25 fee then the fee is added to the fee for the next day. 

Gift and the other guards stand in the hot sun or the cold or the rain for 12 hours a day watching cars, being nice to shoppers, loading packages into the cars for them, directing them as they back out of parking spots and hoping desperately that they come out ahead financially that day. He didn't say this, but I think that working as a car guard is also slightly dangerous. Not just because of the heat that they often have to bear, but because if a deranged criminal does want to steal cars or the contents of cars or rob people, the unarmed car guard is definitely no match for the criminal.

As I mentioned Gift came to South Africa from Zimbabwe three months ago. You will remember that I have written about Zimbabwe in other posts, about how the electricity goes out for 8 hours a day and how in many places no water comes out of the taps. South Africa certainly has many of its own problems (for example we recently had no water coming out of the taps at our house for two weeks) with its troubled and aging infrastructure, government corruption and 25% unemployment rate, but to people from many other African countries, South Africa is the land of opportunity.  

After chatting with Gift over whatsapp, I invited him to meet me for lunch on one of his rare days off.  When I offered to buy him lunch he responded that he had never eaten in a restaurant before and that he did not know how to use a knife or a fork. I could tell he was slightly embarrassed about it so I purposely I took him to a burger place (not McDonald's because I have my standards) but a place called Wimpy. I think it was a good first restaurant experience. We had a waitress and silverware was made available to us but we didn't use it. I showed him a little bit how to use the knife and fork but it was not a full and proper lesson. And to be honest, I am not the best person to be giving anyone advice in this area.

During our lunch I learned that Gift is 35 years old. Both of his parents are deceased (later through my research I found out the life expectancy in Zim is 56 for a man and 57 for a woman.) Gift lives in a house in Joburg with his sister and one other person. He pays his sister R1000 per month rent and he has his own room in the house. He normally works 7 days a week from about 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. each day. In the month that I have known him he has had two days off. 

In many ways Gift is just like my other friends. He likes making jokes, using emoticons on his phone and watching sports, mostly soccer, on TV. Liverpool is his favorite team. And he likes beer. Castle Light is his favorite beer. Communicating with him has taught me that I have a tendency to say a lot of things that are dumb. Well not exactly dumb but inappropriate for his situation. For example, when I told him he deserved to have a day off after working so hard for so many days in a row he was perplexed and reminded me that he has no choice but to accept the fact that although he was told he would have a day off, he didn't get it. When I told him that I was confident that he would get a better job soon, he asked me how I knew such a thing and then I had to admit that really I didn't and I was just trying to be positive and upbeat. 

When I told Gift that Mr. Deep and I were going to visit America for a few weeks, he asked me to tell my friends from America about Gift. He sometimes talks about himself in the third person. He said to tell my American friends that he wishes to visit their country someday but for now he is too poor.


  1. Just now getting around to reading this. Wow, this really made me slow down and think. It's like you made two worlds merge. The car guards are all around you in SA, yet most people would never stop and exchange phone numbers with one. My hat off to you for your kindness and sense of adventure. I hope that gift does find a job that pays better. I know all about the fees paid by car guards, wrote about it in The Parking Gods, which you may or may not have seen. It's a hard life! And yet most of the ones you meet are so cheerful, doggedly waving you out of the parking space even though our rearview cameras tell us all we need to know - i.e. that there is a person standing in the way where you want to back into:-)

    1. Thank you for your comment and for sharing this post on Facebook. Yes, I did read your post and I love that the person though for the longest time that it was Gods and not Guards. Hilarious. I have been curious about the car guards since I came to South Africa as we have no real similar role/occupation in the U.S. Maybe I have also been more minded about them since my car is not equipped with a back up camera so I can use all the help I can get :)


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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.