Friday, February 10, 2012

Life in the Fast Lane

The other morning, as we drove to church, it occurred to me that driving in Liberia is never a dull activity. Today, we saw a man on a motorcycle, driving with one hand, while holding a large fish in the other hand. I wonder if his mother had warned him about arriving at his sister's house for lunch without a hostess gift. We saw a man (old enough to know better!) on roller blades, holding onto the back of a motorcycle, whipping through Monrovia's streets. We saw a van that had rolled and was quite crunched. It had been full of cement building blocks.

Two boys, about age ten, were walking with a large table balanced on their heads. Maybe the Communion Table for a church somewhere? A man was pulling his reluctant goat down the street. I think the goat must have known this might be the last barbeque he would attend. Ladies dressed in beautiful African dresses, trying to hail taxis; little boys in clean white shirts and neat black trousers; girls with their hair intricately plaited and decorated with many bright barrettes and ribbons; dapper gentlemen wearing suits and ties. Many people were on their way to church.

As he drove, Dave had to keep a close eye on the road. Taxis stop in the middle of the lane to pick-up customers. Trucks pull onto the road without stopping or looking ("Right of Weight" seems to be the rule here). People crossing busy streets stand on the yellow line in the middle of the road, waiting for a break in traffic to dash across the remaining lanes. Cars pass on double yellow lines; taxis pass vehicles by driving on the shoulder of the road; brake lights often do not work, so there is no warning notice that a car is stopping in front of you. Joggers run on the road, and men pushing wheelbarrows full of lumber expect cars to go around them. Driving is not for the faint-hearted!
In the past month several new road signs have appeared. "Slippery When Wet" for a bridge, "Caution/School", "Curve Ahead", and so on. Earlier this week, I encountered a STOP sign where one had previously never been. I slowed and stopped. Two taxis whipped around me, honking their horns and one man shook his fist at me. Having the right of way, two motorcycles turned in front of me as I patiently waited, and they both honked and glared! All I did was stop at the STOP sign, as required by law. I was confused. But Dave told me that STOP signs are really just suggestions and that by actually stopping, I had spoiled the system. How was I to know?

Tomorrow, while you wait at the stop light, be thankful that every car is in a proper lane, and that all cars actually stopped for the red light. Be thankful that there are not twenty five people threading their way around the cars, selling newspapers, gum, potato chips, washcloths (yes, washcloths!), and loaves of bread. Driving in the U.S. might be a little more boring than driving here, but it is definitely more sane.

Have a good week.