Ping (zestyping) wrote,

What I learned in Africa.

Rusty corrugated metal is not scrap; it's what you use to make roofs and walls.

Lane markings (dotted or solid) are merely recommendations. On a two-lane road, it's normal to squeeze between the two opposing lanes of traffic to pass the car in front of you. So is honking at the bicycles to get out of your way so you can complete this manoeuvre.

Passing pedestrians, bicycles, and other cars at high speed with six inches of clearance is normal.

Almost all signs, even official government signs, are hand-painted. Spelling, grammar, and typographic consistency are all optional.

Roads are made of dirt, rocks, and potholes. To drive down a straight road is to navigate a labyrinth. African drivers have developed a keen ability to see through dust clouds, generate a mental topography of the oncoming terrain, and estimate the depth of each bump and depression. Using this data they plan a winding route along the road (and occasionally off the side of the road) and adjust their speed just enough to keep you from being tossed out of your seat.

Just about anyone can balance anything on their head. They all learned it as children. Grown men don't do it, though; they consider it embarassing.

The side of the road is a place for:

  • Goats
  • Sheep
  • Chickens
  • People towing wooden carts loaded with dozens of tires
  • Broken-down vehicles
  • People standing around who were riding in said vehicles, waiting to be picked up
  • Overturned trucks
  • 8-year old Maasai children directing herds of cattle
  • Termite mounds taller than you are

A bicycle is more than a handy personal vehicle; it is also a cart and a revenue source. You can take your five 20-litre jugs of water, your bundle of firewood, or your sacks of produce for the market, tie them to your bike and walk the bike up the hill. Or, pile an extra person or two on the back of your bike, and you have just become a gainfully employed taxi driver.

Lots and lots of people really do live in little straw huts. To them it is neither charming nor pitiable; it's just how they live.

Walking 10 kilometres to get to primary school is normal.

Everywhere except the big cities, each car is followed by a dust cloud as long as a city block. Everything is covered in a layer of dust — the cars, the buildings, the people. On paved roads, cars are followed by great clouds of pungent black smoke. I have probably tripled my particulate intake for the year during this trip.

There's nothing weird about having a mobile phone but having neither running water nor electricity in your home.

Just honk and keep driving (slowly). The 20 baboons sitting in the road will get out of the way.

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