When starting out in a new country it is often advisable to use the public transport or hire a driver and his car. This recommendation is not because you might be a bad driver! The road rules that you might be used to don’t apply here, nor do theirs it seems.
In the great RACQ style: Road rules? What road rules? I am not sure that the drivers even know that road rules exist. The way that they drive down the centre line with oncoming traffic; overtaking around blind corners; driving 3 cars abreast on a two lane road; making a left hand turn (they drive on the right) into an intersection full of cars, and dodging and weaving through those cars to get to the desired side of the road, you could imagine absolute carnage and mayhem. Surprisingly there seem to be few accidents, because as one local driver put it, ‘you don’t just watch out for your own mistakes, you have to watch out for everyone else’s as well’.
Watching out for everyone else would also include the people who choose to meander across the street, traffic or not, and somehow miraculously make it to the other side alive. Included is also the animals that are herded throughout the city traffic looking for any small morsel of grass or foodstuff they can find.
The consequence of the apparent lack of road rules is the consistent use of the cars horn. This results in a very noisy trip down the road. It is also necessary to understand the different horn toots as well, as they all have different meanings! The very loud and short one is the ‘I’m about to run you over get the hell out of my way as I ain’t stopping’. Secondly there is the ‘watch out I can see you are about to jump out in front of me on the road’ longer toot. Then there is the double or triple toot which says that ‘I am here first and you are going to wait for me, so don’t even think of moving’. How can I forget to include the ‘what the hell are you doing, get out of my way you idiot’ beep which is ear piercing, drawn out and conducted mercilessly until you concede defeat or move on out of range. Lastly there is the celebration toots, these come from multiple vehicles at the same time over the course of their trip to denote a wedding procession in progress. These toots should also be accompanied by some loud shouts and cheers intermittently.
It would appear to a bystander that motorists have tserets syndrome, when in fact it is simply a case of individual driving skills mixed together with few working traffic lights, non-existent rules and the drivers’ view that he is superior in the kingdom of his car, so watch out people on the zebra crossing as I ain’t stopping!
All I can say is, keep your eyes shut, door unlocked (in case of the need for a hasty exit) and seatbelt securely locked in! Or find some place in nirvana to let your mind reside for the trip.
* Update! So I have been driving myself here now for about 2 years, and although I would say that there is method in the madness (Ethiopians are generally quite accommodating of other drivers on the road), it sometimes feels better when you yourself are in control (or that is my control freak speaking). It is a scary experience being on the roads here, no doubt about it (or apologies) – there is a very high rate of road and traffic accidents. But I have discovered in my travels that there are worse places – such as Cairo. Cairo is a place where, like no other, I literally fear for my safety and life when hurtling down their freeways in the back of a taxi.