Sunday, August 31, 2008

Driving....Niger style

I have mentioned that I am mostly adjusting well to driving a right hand vehicle. I paid attention to my speed today as I went all around town trying to piece together all the required information for our Permis de Sejour (Residence Permit). Over a few hours in the city, both the city centre and outskirts, i think my average speed was 25 kilometres an hour. When i was near our house on the outskirts I actually hit 50 km/hour for about 45 seconds (before i once again slowed to a crawl for goats, people, cows, etc) and that felt really fast! I've attached a picture of some of the streets and areas we drive on a regular basis. There are three reasons that we drive consistently slow here.

1) The streets are crowded. They are full of people, motorcycles, animals, carts, other vehicles and bicycles etc. Today I passed a guy on a bicycle, and on the back of his bicycle he had tied down both a lawnmower AND a wheelbarrow, and yet was still riding. Can't say I've ever seen that before! You go very slow in many places simply to avoid the huge masses of things you don't want to hit.

Some of the crowded streets, where people run out in front of you ALL the time.

2) The roads are bad. Especially after the rain we have had lately, the potholes are bigger than normal, like whole car size potholes. Paul saw the whole front end of a vehicle dissapear in a puddle that had been hiding a giant pothole. The ruts, mud, piles of garbage and rubble lying around ensure that travelling super slow is the right way to go.

An actual road we drove through. During rainy season it floods and sticks point up to show you where the road bed is. The water was above the bottom of our doors- thank goodness for good door seals!

The roads right by our house. We have to take the long way around to get to our co-workers house since some areas become impassable

3) The other drivers are bad drivers. Well, I would say the majority at least. I think at home we have a certain amount of assurance that the other people sharing the road with us can see ok, have taken a drivers test, know the rules of the road, have decent reflexes to unexpected events, and are aware of their surroundings. You can throw all of those assumptions out the door here. The other drivers don't drive defensively and we see many accidents everyday. So we drive slow and try to avoid accidents at all costs. Not just because we are white and will automatically get blame and be expected to pay- but also because I don't want to live with a serious accident on my conscience for the rest of my life, even if the other driver was clearly wrong.

So I drive quite slow, like school zone slow, all day and most places I go. And I'm not passed that much, expect by the crazy over-full taxis. So everyone seems to go slow to avoid bottoming out their vehicle or crashing or killing a camel(or said camel denting my bumper). And I drive with heightened awareness and reflexes, ready at any moment for a goat to jump out in front of the truck or a motorcycle to veer directly into my path. I'm thankful for the 4 inch lift on my truck which allows me to have a good view over everything at least, but that lift makes it hard to get into the truck "appropriately" with a skirt in a culture where you shouldn't show your knees!

One other thing that bothers me a lot about driving here is that no matter how crazy it is in the day, multiply that times ten for the night (or as soon as the sun goes down) Take all the craziness and do it in the dark! Don't get me wrong, there are in fact streetlights on most of the major roads in town. I think they were given through development projects and grants for socail infrastructure to help improve the city by a few big aid organizations such as USAID. The problem is, having the lights in place is great, having the budget money (or political willpower or whatever) to actually turn them on at night is a whole other ballgame. Funny how the government or organizations never think that far ahead :P So we drive, with many more people out due to the cooler temperature, in the pitch dark except for lights of other vehicles. Did I mention most bikes, carts, people and goats don't have lights? So you see where I am going with this. I hate driving at night.

I could say this slower speed of driving parallels the slower speed of life. Us North Americaners (and i guess europeans too) are used to a fast pace of life, speeding down the highways at 120km is nothing, and in town the 50 or 60 km/hour speed limits are often broken as we rush from one place to another. Here, the speed limit is technically 50 in most places, but i know i never have to worry about ever getting a ticket here, since i rarely even reach that! We slow down, we are much more aware of the people we see and pass and who interact with us. We make adjustments as things happen and we dont worry about how long it takes us to get to the destination, only that we arrive at all. A good lesson to apply to the speed of life

Finally a straight, lonely, dry road! Too bad it's 2 hours out of Niamey!


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kimom said...

Hi! I saw your comment at coffee confessions and loved browsing your blog and links! I have 3 little ones, born on 3 continents =) We also work in francophone Africa, but are on furlough right now in Oregon. I have tons of questions for you, but will just say hi for now... feel free to check out my kiddos at 'tenfootfamily'. Grace, Kim

Daniel and Linda K said...

Greetings to you all, many prayers and hugs....thank you for your stories, and descriptions. We had moved to Red Deer, but that has crashed and burned miseribly due to teen amd preteen gangs, I cannot even begin to explain. Nontheless we are so looking forward to a return to Sylvan and SLAC, I am counting the minutes, and praying praying and more praying. I promise once settled I will again be a more regular blogger. Too much stress...but we never stopped praying for you all....Christ be with you all, and God Bless.