Freedom in a Datsun Sunny

I had a car in Libya, a late 80’s military green, Datsun Sunny. It must have been close to 15 years old when we bought it. If I took a corner to quickly the passenger door would fly open which always provided a bit of excitement if I happened to be traveling with a guest. The first little traveler would call out “HOLD ON TIGHT” while she squealed from the comfort of her car seat in the back. Due to the embargoes in Libya at the time there was no Visa or Mastercard, no opportunity for a bank transfer, so we paid cash. Everything was cash: groceries, a trip to the medina, or a night out to dinner. In those days you’d stock up on US dollars every time you left you country. G and I returned from Malta with the cash for the car. With $5,000 in our socks on a warm North African day, we giggled about needing to air out our money before picking up the car.

I named that Datsun Sunny, Freedom, because that’s what it was, freedom. After arriving in Tripoli we were informed by the company that I was not to drive G’s company car. There was a bus to collect children for school or nursery, and if I wanted to use that bus for grocery shopping or a trip to the pool I had to negotiate with Nasser the driver and the 10 other women who needed it. Somehow without mobile phones, Facebook, or texting we all managed to make it work. A schedule was drawn up, time was allocated to be fair for everyone concerned, but there were many days where I was stuck. There was no quick dash to the shop, or dropping something to school for a child. You waited patiently for your scheduled turn to come and prayed the shop would have everything you needed. There were days where I was housebound. Pregnant, with a small child and house bound. We did a lot of baking, turned the bath into a swimming pool, and smiled and nodded a lot at people who passed by the house while trying to strike up a chat.

When the opportunity came for the Datsun Sunny to be mine I jumped on it. “You’re leaving? That’s awful, terrible, I’ll miss you. Can I buy your car?”

And when the deal was done and Freedom arrived at my door, I became a teenager who’d just received their license. I was suddenly mobile, free. I could go anywhere, and I did. I went on exotic trips to the medical centre for vaccinations, did reading at the school, travelled to three different groceries stores to get supplies for the evening meal. I may have been a Stay at Home Mother in my green Datsun Sunny but I felt like Thelma or possibly Louise, driving with the top down (and the passenger door swinging open).

A few days after Freedom had become a permanent fixture in our carport, G came home with a letter typed in Arabic to put in her glove box.

“What’s that? What does it say?” I wondered if it was an insurance form.

G had a look that I now recognize as how do I explain this without her getting on the plane. It’s a look I’ve seen many times in our 15 years of travel.

“Um, it’s a letter to say that I, um, I know that you’re driving” G wasn’t making eye contact.

“What do you mean, you know?”

“Well, it says that I’m okay with you driving.”

“Oh, You mean it says that you’re allowing me to drive?”

G shrugged, tried to look sympathetic. “It’s the law, you can’t drive without a letter from me saying I’m okay with it.”

My Datsun Sunny suddenly looked different, I was no longer Thelma, nor Louise. It was no longer a road trip, it was a conditional day pass.

Freedom not only came at a price, it came with a letter in the glove box.

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