Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why Driving in Botswana Keeps Life Interesting

(Written 9/21/2012)

I thought the end of my last blog entry would be a good segue to this topic: Why Driving in Botswana Keeps Life Interesting.

1.       Giant White Kia Van = Combi in the Eyes of the Locals I should explain this portion by first reminding you that we are currently not able to drive our own car – which is an extremely cool, sporty looking SUV that is just itching to bear us forth on many adventurous safaris out in the bush. Instead, we are temporarily leasing a Giant White Kia Van from the embassy until our diplomatic certifications are processed. Now, this Giant White Kia Van bears a striking resemblance to the “combi” buses which are the closest thing Gaborone has to public transportation. The combis will stop helter-skelter (I have always wanted to use that word in writing) for all kinds of people, anytime, anyplace, who signal the vans by flapping their hand up and down violently. Pedestrians often mistake our Giant White Kia Van for a combi, and attempt to frantically hail us when they see the van approaching; only to jump back in trepidation when they see that the van is driven by Giant White People who bear no resemblance to their friendly neighborhood combi chauffeur.

2.       Friday Night is Party Time Never in my life have I had the experience of peering into neighboring vehicles as I pass by and catching a glimpse of an entire carload of people drinking beers as they cruise along. Yes, that is Friday night in Gaborone. There isn’t a whole lot going on in town nightlife-wise, so people seem to enjoy piling all their friends into a van for a mobile drunk driving party. Or I shoud say “drink driving” as they call it here. I have noticed signs for a car service called “Home Rra” which strives to solve this very problem by making it convenient for the intoxicated to get home safely. However, the service appears to be missing the major problem – it’s not just people driving home after an evening out; rather, the evening out is spent in the car with drinks. Why not just have drinks at home in the living room? Beats me.

3.       Pedestrians Do Not Fear Death The streets are dimly lit at night, the lane markers are almost indistinguishable, drivers do not stop at stop signs or fully obey traffic rules. Yet this does not dissuade pedestrians – from the well-dressed businessmen on the way to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the shanty dweller on the way out for a beer – from wandering helter-skelter (yes! Used it again!) out in front of oncoming traffic. This is no tentative dodging of traffic or quick dash through a gap in traffic. It is people unconcernedly, lackadaisically stepping out into the street just a few feet in front of, say for the sake of context, a Giant White Kia Van barreling towards them. This seems to happen especially at night, when the risk of death by car is amplified 1,000 times by the prevalence of drunk drivers and lack of good lighting. I will be using my brights as much as possible in order to avoid hitting some poor unfortunate soul who didn’t bother to look before moseying out into the highway. I’d never be able to forgive myself!

4.       Stay Out of the Right Lane if Driving a Large, Clunky Van As mentioned in previous entries, the pace of life in Botswana is extremely slow and relaxed. The Ambassador needs a meeting with a high-level official yesterday? Yawn. It can wait until Monday. Our burglar alarm is going off at all hours of the night and we need someone to come over and fix it ASAP? Got a lot going on now, can’t get to it. The one and only time that I have experienced so far when speed does matter is when driving in the right lane. Let me remind you that here in a former British protectorate, we drive on the left and therefore the right lane is the “fast lane.” Woe to the new girl in town (who may be driving a large, clunky, Kia van) who forgets this difference between the United States and most other former British possessions… and decides to switch to the right line to take it nice and slow. That person, whoever she may be, will be honked at, flipped off, and generally scorned by all other drivers in the vicinity. Because let’s face it, we’re in the bustling hub of Gaborone and people have places to go! People to see! Business to sort out! Stat! So get outta the right lane!

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