Saturday, January 21, 2012

A little bit of culture shock!

So I had been planning to write a blog post about all the cultural differences I’ve noticed between the States and Tanzania, but something happened this week that was much more interesting, terrifying, exciting, and all kinds of other words that I can’t even begin to form.

Before I got to Tanzania, Mavuto pushed me to get my International Drivers’ License and bring it with me.  Of course, since I wanted to fulfill all requests he made to me, I went ahead and got it, not really thinking about how I would feel about driving in another country.

The first thing I noticed when I got here is that they drive on the wrong side of the road…and by that I of course mean the left side.  I also noticed that the traffic in the city of Dar es Salaam is extremely crazy!  Bumper to bumper traffic; motorcycles weaving in and out of cars, and bicyclists that don’t pay attention to most normal traffic laws. 

It didn’t really hit me while we were in the city that I would be expected to drive in this country.  But, on our trip in late December from Mtwara to Masasi (my final destination for the next 7 months) that Mavuto brought up the fact that it would be nice to have somebody else able to drive places other than just him.  That’s when I sat up  and started to really pay attention to the roads. 

Thankfully, the roads in Masasi are not nearly as crowded as those in the city.  They are, however, mostly unpaved and VERY uneven.  They also have the addition of motorcyclists and bicyclists who do not think much about common driving courtesies like getting out of the way of a big truck that has the right of way, looking before crossing an intersection, stopping before pulling out from a shop into the road.  Most drivers of two-wheeled vehicles follow none of these.

In the last week, I have driven the streets of Masasi twice.  The first thing I had to quickly learn was how to use my left hand to shift gears.  I also had to remember to use the turn signals on the right side of the steering wheel instead of on the left.  This is on top of trying to remind myself of the basics of a manual transmission vehicle.  Thankfully, the one new thing I did pretty good at following was the idea of driving on the left side instead of the right.  I give credit to Mavuto for this because he’s been doing most of the driving and I’ve been giving careful study of his driving and have actually gotten slowly used to this idea of driving on the wrong side of the road.  The trouble will be when I have to go back to driving on the right side of the street.  When I have to do that, there won’t be anyone driving me around for 2 weeks before letting me try for myself.  I will almost right away be expected to readjust and successfully drive as I was originally taught.  That will be reverse culture shock I’m sure.

I also managed to drive to one of the local villages for a bible study meeting.  This is an adventure simply because the roads are not paved and, with the rainy season just starting, very uneven and bumpy (these are understatements for sure).  Most of the drive was spent apologizing to my passenger, Joyce for all the bumps I managed to hit.  She did a very good job of trying to point out the biggest potholes, but there’s no way of avoiding all of them and it was a very interesting adventure.  At several different places, I was afraid we would get stuck in very slippery and wet soil.  At other points I was sure our truck was about to bounce right off the wheels, so jarring was the bump I had just hit (even though I’m pretty sure that’s physically impossible.  By the time we made it home, I shakily handed the keys back to Mavuto.  But I had a new confidence.  I had successfully driven on the roads of another country and brought the car back in one piece, just a little muddier than when I had started the journey!  How many of my friends and family can say that?  Plus, I know that being able to drive the missionary wives to different functions in the different villages will help the missionaries a lot because they won’t have to take the time out of their day to drive us, wait for us to finish, and drive us home.  They can work on other things back at the main compound.  This helps me feel that I’m accomplishing one of my goals in coming here: to make life a little easier for the people who are doing God’s work here full time.

Well, I feel I must thank you for reading this very long post.  I hope you enjoyed reading it … would say as much as I enjoyed the experience…but I’m not sure enjoyment of driving in Tanzania will ever truly be attained in the next 7 months.  Look for another post about the cultural differences that I had in mind previously.  It will be written, but I felt this story needed to be shared while the experience was still fresh in my mind.

I would love to hear your reactions to the story, or perhaps even your own crazy driving story – whether in another country or the United States.  Tell me about it in the comments section below!  I’d love to hear from anyone who reads these posts!