I think it’s time to write about driving. Driving sounds like no big deal, but it has been a major hurdle for me. When I moved to this country 4 years ago, some friends suggested I buy a car, and I basically laughed in their faces. “No way am I driving here!” I said. I scoffed. I was a scoffer. Why, you may ask? Drivers here are crazy. Traffic is crazy. Lane lines are usually non-existent, and when present, are taken as polite suggestions. Traffic lights are also suggestions, unless there is a police officer standing at the intersection. I just heard yesterday from a local – only the stopped police write tickets. The ones driving around are also breaking the rules, so you don’t have to worry about them. Wow. Laws are there, they just aren’t enforced. It’s perfectly normal to park a car on a main road. Just stop in the right lane and get out. As a courtesy, you might put on your blinkers to let people know that you are at a complete stop on a major road full of moving traffic.
And the pedestrians. Oh, the pedestrians. First of all, they are everywhere. They can jump in front of you on any road at any time. One classic from earlier this year was a man eating pudding while crossing the road. Nope, he couldn’t wait that extra 30 seconds. He was standing between two lanes of moving traffic just eating his pudding, waiting for a space to clear. And that’s pretty normal.
I describe all of this to support my position of not driving here, ever. I haven’t even mentioned the motorbikes, recycle carts, horse-drawn wagons, tractors, trucks, busses (we saw a bus literally rip the side off of a car one day AND JUST KEEP GOING!), and the dream team - taxis, shared taxis, and shared minibus taxis. These wonderful fellows’ normal mode of operation is to cut in front of everyone available, slam on their brakes, then speed ahead until they see another passenger, at which time they repeat their dance all over again. I did not want to drive.
Then we bought a car. Then we said “It would be a good idea for Marie to learn to drive.” Did I mention we bought a manual transmission? Did I mention I never got around to learning manual transmission? My first lessons were on the nearby college campus, which is built on a mountain top and whose entrance road is a big, steep hill with speed bumps. There are also wild dogs living on that campus. Oh, and the campus busses. Thankfully, it was pretty empty on weekends, so I got some good practice in. That was in January. I’ve driven about twice a month in the city since then, and I’ve been traumatized about twice a month since January. I’m happy to say, though, that after a debacle on Sunday when I couldn’t even get the car out of our neighborhood without stalling out (our neighborhood is really hilly, ok?) we made a new game plan. For three days this week my husband has been driving us to his work, then I switch over and drive to my work alone. It’s a 20 minute trip, all flat, lots of traffic, starting, stopping, etc. It’s perfect practice for me until I can get my confidence back up. I only had one mishap on Monday morning when I tried to start in 2nd gear. Other than that, I think I’m improving ever so slightly. And I’m even starting to enjoy it. I can do things here that I always wanted to do in the States, but knew would never fly, like inventing new lanes of traffic for myself, honking my horn at annoying people, and cutting people off in traffic. Confession – I also stop in the right lane on a major road when I’m waiting for my husband after work. No one even gets upset because it’s the normal mode of operation! Hey, I might get into this.
Do any of you have driving stories? Did anyone else have trouble learning manual transmission?