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Alex

| June 2, 2008

Today, we will drive the first part of our journey, from Lilongwe to Tete, where we will spend the night near Mozambique Leaf Tobacco Co.’s leaf processing facility. Our cargo: 20 tons of Malawi burley from Alliance One, destined for Philip Morris Germany.

To ensure their guest is comfortable, Transcom Sharaf has assigned me to their fleet’s latest and most modern vehicle: A Freightliner hot off the boat from the United States. (The company uses only previously owned trucks; new ones would be hard to justify on Africa’s punishing roads.)

Freshly painted in company colors, the truck has received a clean bill of health from Transcom Sharaf’s mechanics. The cabin has been vacuumed and the engine is humming nicely. Climate controls and advanced suspension technology will minimize the discomfort associated with travel in Africa.

But there is one problem—my driver is missing a leg.

Guy Harvey assures me I will be fine. The truck is equipped with automatic transmission and Alex is Trancom Sharaf’s best driver hands down. He can make it to Johannesburg, South Africa, in only three days, and—unlike some other drivers—takes good care of his vehicles, slowing down for potholes and inspecting his vehicle at every stop.

He also doesn’t drink alcohol. And if that’s not enough to gain my confidence, there’s the sticker on the dashboard, reminding passengers to relax, because “God is in control.”

In 2006, Alex pulled into a truck stop in Tete to spend the night. When thieves attempted to steal his cargo, he decided to look for a safer place closer to the MLT factory. On the way, he pulled over to chat with a friend. As they were talking on the side of the road, the truck suddenly slid off the embankment and tipped over, pinning Alex’s lower body under the front windshield pillar. It took nearly five hours to free him.

The doctors at Tete hospital wanted to amputate both legs, which would have ended Alex’s career as a truck driver. But Guy Harvey insisted on a second opinion. With the help of a MLT doctor, they managed to save one leg. Alex spent a month recovering at a Zimbabwe hospital.

The accident didn’t deter Alex. Upon return to Transcom Sharaf, he insisted on driving again. He also maintained his sense of humor. When he was fitted with a prosthesis, Alex reportedly complained that he would have preferred a white leg.

While hesitant at first, Transcom Sharaf’s management decided to give Alex an opportunity to prove his one-legged driving skills. Today, he is the company’s head driver and senior instructor.

Category: Blogs, Out of Africa

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