The Truck That Shouldn’t Exist.
Certain things are only impossible until they’ve been done – like building a giant moon buggy and driving it through Africa. Meet Nour Addine Ayyoub, who loves to do the impossible.
Then you’d drive it all the way from Cape Town to Cairo and realise that wasn’t enough. You’d then continue on through Italy and to your birthplace of Antwerp in Belgium. After that, you’d ship it to New York so you could carry on through the US, planning to end up at Burning Man in the Nevada Desert, via Las Vegas.
That’s exactly what Nour Addine is busy doing. We caught up with him in Cape Town the evening before he was due to fly to the the US to resume his trip, to find out what exactly this ambitious mission was all about.
The futuristic ZaiTruck
At first sight, his expedition makes very little sense. In a rational world, there is no reason for a fantasy space truck to exist, let alone go driving through Africa. For the ungovernable Nour Addine, though, that is precisely the point.
The look of the truck has its roots in his love of science fiction. His fondness for the genre originates in the kind of futuristic hope it embodies. His entrepreneurial spirit and appetite for adventure both have the conviction that if you can think it, you can do it. The ZaiTruck, as he dubbed his six-wheeler (after his company ZaiLab), was born partly of a desire simply to do something that had never been done before. But it has a greater symbolic importance. If you can show people that impossible, irrational, wonderful things exist, it fosters a we-can-do-anything mentality, particularly among all those who encounter the ZaiTruck.
Voices of Humanity
In the time between buying a giant military vehicle on a whim and the slightly more pragmatic business of getting his own sci-fi inspired Software Company off the ground, Nour had also started a humanitarian foundation in his own name, the Ayyoub Foundation, and specifically a project called Voices of Humanity.
He had the idea of chronicling the lived experiences of a wide spectrum of people around the globe, building bridges and forging understanding. Using the ZaiTruck as a mobile base, a team including videographer Dominique Vandenhoudt and ZaiLab industrial designer Roelf Mulder would travel across the continent with Nour doing interviews. “Our idea was to create a list of specially formulated questions, like: What does freedom mean to you? What does love mean to you? What makes you happy? What makes you unhappy? And just to record it and start getting a feeling of how we as humans think,” Nour says.
Nour himself is naturally gregarious – “You’ve probably noticed that I like to have conversations; I like people,” he says – but he realised that he needed something to disarm people and pique their curiosity. He also understands the value of spectacle, and a truck that looked like it might have landed on the moon would have a knack for getting people to open up.
So, over sixteen months, his team and their collaborators built the truck that would become the vehicle, home, film studio and vessel through which the Voices of Humanity project was made a reality. It was divided into two capsules, one a cockpit and the other a mobile film studio. It looked like something out of some crazy set-designer’s hallucination, with hydraulic capsules that popped open, screens everywhere, and a weird central steering wheel.
His hunch was rewarded. “Whenever we arrived in any country, in any village and city, we drove in there and started having conversations,” he said. “It’s unbelievable what happens when people sit in the back of the truck and they have a camera in front of them. People from different ages and backgrounds, the way they started speaking, the words that come out of their mouths, is just mind-boggling. Somehow, this truck does it. They feel like they’re on top of the world and that they’ve got a voice that they can share with the rest of the world. I get goosebumps.”
Counterintuitively, the truck’s conspicuousness and strange futuristic appearance helped smooth their passage across Africa, which is notorious for its tricky border posts and roadblocks. “Whenever we were stopped by police and at borders,” he says, “it was more to help us than cause us trouble.”
Nour was excited about continuing his mission on a new continent, but was already talking about further plans. “We’re going to continue it,” he says. “I’d like to do Mexico, some South American countries. I want to go to the UK, through western Europe, and then I want to go to Russia.”
On his trip so far, what has he found? Something we all want to be true: “We all think the same,” he says.