Monday, July 30, 2012

Lesson 1: Learn to Swerve

Anyone seen Zombieland?  If not, you should.  Pretty funny.  People with a sensitive movie palate, pick up the edited version.  Definitely the edited version.  Well, the main character in the movie has lessons for surviving a world full of zombies.  Well, guess what?  To survive Nigeria, there are a few lessons you should follow. 

Over the weekend, I was speaking with some Germans in their mid-20's who are here working as engineers.  Really nice guys, but German and engineers, so VERY rule-oriented!  The company they work for supplies them with drivers to take them where ever they need to go.  We were talking about driving in Nigeria and I asked them if they ever drove.  They replied that they didn't even have a driver's license here.  They asked me if I had my license, and I just kind of smirked.  They answered their own question, "Oh, you have the red driver's license!"  They were referring to the diplomatic plates on our cars.  They then started to accuse diplomats, in particular U.S. diplomats, of being horrible drivers.  (I admit, we can be pretty bad.  We can't get pulled over or searched by police!!  It's AWSOME!)  Anyway, I laughed and asked them compared to whom, the locals?!  Everyone laughed and we all started telling stories of foreign drivers who have been in accidents because they arrive in Nigeria and try to drive like they're in their own country.  Doesn't work here.  Do I drive crazy?  Yep.  Do I drive like a jerk?  By U.S. standards . . . sometimes.  Do I drive like a Nigerian?  You bet I do!  Okay, truth be told, I don't drive quite like a Nigerian, but I definitely drive differently than I used to.  So, Lesson One: Learn to Swerve!

One of my first nights here I drove to a small gym on one of the many housing compounds the U.S. Embassy has here.  I turned right off a major (primary) street onto a secondary street.  Like I would do in the U.S., I turned from the outside lane to the outside lane of the secondary street.  I immediately had to swerve towards the middle lane in order to avoid a car driving against traffic in reverse at about 40 m.p.h.  I watched him back up until he was able to turn right into a drive-way.  He had missed his turn, but instead of turning around and circling back, he just threw in in reverse.  Makes sense - less work!

My first Sunday here I was driving to a friends house.  Oddly enough, on the same primary road as my first story.  This road is three lanes across in either direction - pretty wide.  So, parking in Nigeria is a story for another time, but needless to say people park where ever the crap they want!  On Sundays when everyone goes to Church, in some areas, cars line the shoulders of the roads, the sidewalks, and even the outside lanes of the roads.  So, this road which normally has 3 lanes, now had 2 usable lanes.  But because people park in the outside lane, when they exit their cars or back up, they cross into the middle lane.  So, most people drive on the inside lane to make sure they avoid people.  That's where I was - the inside lane.  Driving at the speed of normal traffic.  There were only a couple cars actually using the road, but I just wanted to make sure I avoided all contact with these crazy drivers who parked all over tarnation.  (Yes, I said tarnation.  You'd find yourself saying all sorts of things if you drove here, too!)  So, I'm rounding a gentle curve to the right when I notice a car coming right at me headed in the other direction.  (No, they weren't backing up - I know that's the first question on your mind!).  They were actually driving in the wrong direction.  I again swerved towards the middle lane and missed the oncoming driver.  Of course I was yelling at him.  The yelling continued until I reached the next intersection and saw they had blocked off the entire road in the other direction.  There was even a policeman standing at that intersection directing people to use the inside lane of my side of the road to travel in the opposite direction (I have no idea who "they" is, but someone has the job of blocking off various streets throughout Abuja with cars, metal posts, cement blocks, fallen trees, or random pieces of debris.  Not kidding).  Of course, no signs, no markers, you are just supposed to know or adapt . . . very quickly.