Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Driving in Kigali

As a disclaimer it must be made known that I have not driven in Kigali nor do I have any intentions of doing so. I rely mostly on Rob and Musoni to take care of all my driving needs. I have never been particularly fond of driving so being here I have the perfect mix of excuses and legitimate reasons why I shouldn't drive. One - The truck we have is a stick shift and while I've driven one before (on a farm in south GA) I'm not up for the refresher course Rob's offered. And two- I'm easily distracted. It seems there are so many more things to watch out for driving here It's just not going to happen.... that being said, this is everything I know about driving in Kigali.

1. Directions are pretty hard. Road name markers are hard to come by. Everyone has given me directions based on 5 or 6 roundabouts. That becomes easy enough once you learn the distinguishing factor of each, but try to get to someone's house. That's difficult! I give directions to our house based on number of speed bumps and our church. For getting to others' homes I'm glad Rob has a good sense of direction. I just smile and nod and hope he's getting it. Before this, across from that, but if you get to the slight fork in the road you've gone too far. Confusing!

2. Once you're on your way, watch out! Motorcycles whip in and out of tiny gaps between traffic, 2 lane roads hold 4 vehicles wide in a moments notice, and pedestrians could care less that you're going 50 mph in a two ton vehicle.

3. There also exists an intricate language consisting of headlight flashes and beeps. Some examples: if you beep first, you get the right of way. You honk if you're passing to tell the passee that you're on their left. I have never heard so many cars honking so consistently before, mostly not in anger, just communication. And oh if there's a wedding, you wouldn't believe the honking that follows! Some warnings: Headlights on a clear day say "all clear, no cops"; lights flashing say, "slow it down there's a cop ahead".

4. In kindergarten we received marks on how well we colored inside the lines. No such thing exists on Kigali roadways. If your passing on the left and think, my this lane is nicer. Feel free to stay in it. No need to drive only on the right.

5. Cops have no radar detectors, and there are no posted speed limits. But that doesn't stop traffic cops from doing their jobs. We were pulled over for speeding on the way home from Kibuye. And we were speeding (and overtaking...multiple counts).
Speeding and speeding fines are big deals in Rwanda. Think you can bribe a cop, think again. No way, that's going to happen.

6. So, say you were fine with driving a stick, watching out for motos, sharing your lane space with other cars, speaking the diesel language, keeping tabs on people consistently inches from your bumper, while remembering where to turn. If all that you had under control, you should also beware of eight year old boys trying to hitch a ride without your knowing.

Rob has had multiple instances of discovering stowaways in the bed of his truck. He'll hear a subtle clank clank as they climb aboard and then just see the tops of their little heads huddling down near the cab. He'll pull over, give a tap tap tap on the roof and the boys will realize the gig's up and hop out with sheepish grins. This really puzzled us at first, they have no idea where we're going, why are they getting in the truck. Then, one day as we were stuck in some wedding traffic (horns going crazy) we notice we were being eyed by a young boy. Thinking he was staring at the mzungus we paid him no attention until we saw he had slowed his pace to get even with the bed of the truck. He gave himself away with the look in his eyes and his ride was over before it began. Joyriding! This is what these boys are after! They could care less where they end up, all the joy is in the journey for them.

Other things to watch out for: No one is allowed to be out driving on the last Saturday morning of every month. This is when Umaganda (community service morning) takes place and the only reasons for not being apart of it include going to the airport, hospital, and being a 7th day Adventist (and I've even heard that some of these are being cracked down on too!) But really there's no need to be out driving this morning, because nothing is open until afternoon anyway.

And finally, though we have yet to personally experienced it, we have been duly warned about the speedy whirlwind of the president's motorcade. If you see it coming stop; just stop. Don't try to get out of the way, don't look for a place to pull over. Just stop. This will keep everyone happy and you out of trouble.

There it is; everything a non-driver knows about driving in Kigali.

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