Ghanaian-born driving instructor Victor Boadum is a real rarity in the streets of Berlin. He teaches Africans to survive the German capital’s rough traffic. DW’s Daniel Pelz went along on a driving lesson.
Getting the car out of the narrow parking space and onto the road into Berlin’s heavy midmorning traffic comes close to a little adventure. Driving student Sharon Uzo, a 28-year-old from Sierra Leone, slams on the breaks as a lorry races past in the lane next to her, but driving instructor Victor Boadum remains cool.
“Don’t worry, I’m here. Just let it go,” he tells nervous Sharon and gently takes control of the wheel. “Just go back a little so we get more space.” After a few minutes of wheel-spinning and moving the car back and forth, Sharon has made it. As the sun starts to break through the grey clouds, Sharon and driving instructor Victor drive past the Turkish bakeries, Indian restaurants and German barber shops that line the streets of Berlin’s Wedding district.
A man of the road
It’s Sharon’s third lesson. For Victor Boadum, its one of thousands. The 54-year-old Ghanaian has been a driving teacher for the past six years.
“It’s special to teach students from Africa. I know I am part of them, I know their mentality, I feel I am in their shoes. I feel privileged to be with them and to get them through these situations,” he says.
For his part, Victor Boadum knows the streets of Berlin. He’s been in the city since 1979. After working for a foreign embassy and for a few years in self-employment, he decided to change his career.
“Some people don’t think that I am a driving instructor. They ask me if I am the one who is washing the cars. Others react more positively: In the past some even stopped their cars and asked me if I am the driving instructor. Than you see they are happy – they have never seen an African instructor before”, he says.
Driving students appreciate Victor Boadum’s patience.
Today’s lesson is about how to turn. “Don’t forget: Mirror – Shoulder,” Victor Boadum tells his student as they wait at a traffic light. Sharon faithfully looks in the mirror and over her shoulder before she turns into the narrow lane on her right.
“When I saw him, I thought ‘wow,’ because I had never seen an African driving instructor in Germany before. There was immediately this connection between us. He was so patient with me, I thought ‘Ok, I should stick with him.'” the IT student says.
The blue and red Volkswagen rumbles over the cobblestoned roads of the narrow side street, past shabby white apartment blocks.
“Remember, red is red – in Freetown, in Accra, in New York and in Berlin. When you do your exam, you cannot tell the examiner that in Africa red is green,” Victor tells Sharon with a broad smile as they approach another set of traffic lights.
Helping students to survive German bureaucracy
Teaching how to drive is one part of his job – listening is another. Driving around the streets of Berlin with mainly African students also means hearing lots of stories from people struggling to understand Germany’s way of life – and sometimes German bureaucracy.
“One of my students had to do the driving test this morning. I told her three days ago ‘Don’t forget to bring your passport.’ She said she had lost it and she’d been given another document. I told her that the examiner’s office does not accept these papers. So I urged her to go and check with them, because otherwise she might not have been able to do the exam, but she still would have had to pay the fee.”
When the working day is done, Victor switches to his second career. He’s the Akwamuhenge, the chief of more than 40,000 people in Ghana’s Ashanti region. “It’s a great honor for me, but it is difficult to meet my obligations. I do a lot of work via telephone and e-mail,” Victor says. Three times a year he heads off to Ghana.
‘Here there are traffic rules’
After a little over an hour, Sharon finishes the driving lesson and parks the car by the roadside, a few hundred meters away from the driving school’s office.
“You cannot compare driving in Berlin with driving back home,” she says as she breathes a sigh of relief. “Here are traffic lights and rules. In Sierra Leone you just drive according to your own rules,” she says with a smile.
Victor Boadum is already dashing off to the office. With the next driving student waiting, another lesson on Berlin’s streets is about to begin.