Sunday, July 6, 2008

Up is down, left is right, oops, another roundabout!

So, I don’t know if this really qualifies as a perfect moment, but I survived the experience, so I am going to say it qualifies! This is a continuation of my amazing experience in South Africa. As you hopefully know by now, we took a group of students from Arizona State University to South Africa to work on a project about the refugee crisis. Well, once we got there and broke into groups, we found we did not have enough drivers, so guess who got the keys!

Now, I consider myself to be a pretty good driver, an occasional lead foot, but, I have never had an accident, so I was feeling pretty confident. That is until I got into the wrong side of the van. Oh yeah, you got it. I forgot that South Africa does that thing, you know, that thing where they drive on the “wrong” side of the road! Oh, and to add to the challenge, like the wrong side of the road wasn’t enough, but it was also a stick shift!

Thank god my dad thought it was his job to teach al his kids how to drive a stick...
before we could even get behind the wheel of the automatic sitting in the garage! So, after getting into the “right” side of the car, and figuring out how to start the stick without it jumping over the curb, I turned the ignition. Then I reached to my left side for the seat belt. Wrong! It was on the other side, just one more thing to get used to.

So ok, I got the seat belt together, figured out where the mirrors were, and then had to get into reverse. Geez Louise, how the hell do you reverse in this van when you can’t see?

After finally figuring out that you have to actually pull up on the stick to get it into reverse, and then using all eight of my students to be my eyes, we safely reversed out of that narrow spot, and took off down the road. Not too bad for someone who hasn’t driven a stick for years. But then, reality settles in, especially when a car comes toward me in my lane! It took me a second to realize that I had no ownership of this lane, that I owned the other side of the road!

So, it took me awhile, but I finally started getting the hang of doing everything backwards. I was feeling pretty confident, and a little full of myself, that is until I met my first roundabout! Now, these things are tough enough when you are on the “right” side of the road, but when things are all opposite, it’s not even fair. So, here I was trying to figure out how to do it backwards and from the other side. I sat there nd I sat there, sort of like the kid trying to long jump, you know what I am talking about when you kee shifting forward, and shifting forward but can’t quite make yourself go forward.

Well, after the fifth honk from behind, I took the plunge. Man, oh man, was it scary. I felt like cars were coming from all directions, and all I was doing was staring straight ahead. All I wanted was off this merry go ride! I just remembered what my friends in New York City told me about driving in chaos, “don’t use any mirrors, go straight towards where you want to go and eventually they will move out of your way”. Advice I was about to try. I just pointed that van at the next sort of offramp road and shot through. I couldn’t believe it worked! They actually moved out of my way. Well, luckily I only had to deal with two more roundabouts on this trip, and both I was able to get into and out of without being hit or hitting anyone else.

Now, I actually made it through the trip without getting a scratch on the van, even while dodging baboons on the road! Yes I said baboons. But hey, I got through it all without a scratch. I can’t say that for my colleague who also drove the van. He had a little trouble with that “wrong” side of the road thing, and lets just say he had a little mishap with the left side mirror. He also ended up with a very pretty black and red scratch along the side of the van. But, he did stop long enough to pick up the outer covering of the mirror, so it shouldn’t cost that much to fix right?

When I went to turn the van back over to the rental company, I was able to convince them that a little elbow grease and some wax should remove that scratch real easy, and he’s only going to get us for the mirror. But, as far as I am concerned, I made it through the driving challenge without a scratch, and kept my clean record. A perfect two weeks!

Susan, Johannesburg, South Africa

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails