If you're lucky enough to have a certain white Jeep Liberty pull up when you next summon Uber, then you'll likely get a double lift: a ride plus a mood boost. That's just how Lebo (pronounced Lay – bo) rolls. He sees the bright side, the potential, the good stuff, which fits right in with his ready smile and outgoing demeanor. And his lush, lullaby-like African accent — icing on the cake, even if finding work in Charleston since he landed here nearly three months ago hasn't exactly been a piece of said cake.
Lebo, 32, and his wife Tara, an upstate South Carolina native and Clemson graduate, moved to Charleston from Denver for Tara's job as Community Services Coordinator for Roper St. Francis. The couple had met in Lesotho, a small country in southern Africa where Lebo grew up and Tara was a Peace Corps volunteer, and married three years ago after he moved to the states. In Denver, Lebo landed a job one week after his work papers were finalized.
"In Charleston it's hard. I haven't found anything yet," says Lebo, who's had interviews at FedEx and Amazon, and keeps his eyes and ears open for leads. "In Colorado, my last job was in shipping and receiving, it was very challenging, which I really liked. But I am a patient person. I have hope I will find a good job here too," he adds. In the meantime, Uber has been a great way for him to get oriented and meet people — something the uber-friendly Lebo has little problem with.
Patience is proving to be a handy virtue in his new hometown where everything from traffic to social change is, shall we say, not fast, and where drawn out Southern accents make it a tad difficult for Lebo, who is fluent in English as well as Sotho and Zulu, and speaks basic Spanish, to understand people (and vice versa). In addition to patience, he has a wide-ranging skill set and cultural competence that most of his Charleston passengers could only begin to fathom.
"In Africa I basically started working when I started walking," he says, telling how his dad pulled him out of school at age seven to help on his family's farm. "We had 30 pregnant sheep, and my father said, 'I know you can take care of them.' And soon I was caring for 60 animals. I made 60 out of 30," he laughs. Lebo went back to school, but continued helping with the chickens, horses, cattle, donkeys, and the expanding flock of sheep. "We did not just come home and do our studies and homework. We worked with the animals," says Lebo, who eventually graduated high school (equivalent to college in the states). He earned his tuition by managing his brother's store, and after high school moved to Johannesburg to work construction. Later he returned to Lesotho and worked as a loan officer and bank branch manager before leaving for the states with his bride-to-be. His experience includes serving as a translator for the Peace Corps for HIV/AIDS education and World Health Organization, among other organizations.
Thus far Charleston has felt welcoming. "I've found the people here to be really, really nice," Lebo reports. "The people I meet every day driving Uber are making me feel more welcome. I haven't seen racial profiling towards me, and I like that I haven't seen that," he adds. But he also wishes there was an easier way to find community-building common spaces to network and interact with people. In his native country, where there is no indoor plumbing, "we are used to going outside to get water, and so we have to connect with people and meet others. Here I don't even know my neighbors. Everyone stays to themselves — but I don't think that's a Charleston thing, just a difference between Africa and the U.S.," says Lebo, who lives in a James Island apartment, not far from Folly.
In Colorado, Lebo frequented a community garden, a place people met, networked, and talked about jobs. "We could interact with people of different cultures and hang out as young people, and I like that. We learn from all of us as people. Coming together is what teaches us about different cultures. We've got a lot to learn from each other."
And as he Ubers around, giving people uplifting lifts to various destinations, he's enjoying learning about Charleston's past. "When I'm picking up someone on Market Street, for example, I love imagining in my head back, back, back to what was happening here hundreds of years ago. I like living where people were making history," he says, "and I'm part of that history right now."
The other big bonus of being a Charleston transplant? "The beach. In my country in Africa, we were landlocked and far from the beach. Here, I'm going to be a beach guy. I love it."