Monday, March 3, 2008

Driving Madam (Crazy)

Before I embark upon this Discourse, I would like to make a small disclaimer, in that all statements and opinions are given from the point of view of Passenger/Back Seat Driver/Lady What Lunches (etc.). What, me, drive?! Pah! Although, I do sometimes think being in the right-hand seat (the one without the steering wheel, to clarify for all my cross-continental readers) can be a darn site more frightening.

Maybe the best place to start is with the roads. One of the most important factors in development, they tell us, having a decent network of good roads in order to get around easily, safely, and quickly.

In Ghana, the roads vary from being newly surfaced, smooth, well drained, and white lined – to dirt tracks with half-metre deep craters across half the width – and literally everything in between. Around Kumasi, you get some roads which are paved, then a bit further along, some potholes will have developed, a bit further the potholes have taken up half the road, and a little further along you think you are bumping along a road that has never seen an inch of tarmac… and then you spot a small sliver of grey, and realise that that 10cm wide, metre long strip is all that remains of what was once a perfectly smooth road.

As you can imagine, the potholes which are found in most roads do add a certain amount of interest to the journey. If they are mild, or you are on a busy road and so the driver Deems it best to drive straight over them, well, you best have packed your hardhat. (A lesson I have learnt: always use the toilet before you leave. The seatbelt jerking in your bladder area Whilst you are being shaking around like a jelly at the same time do not make for a pleasant trip). If potholes are particularly bad, or you are on a road with little traffic coming the other way, the driver may decide the best method of attack is to swerve dramatically from left to right around the holes, choosing the path of least resistance. HowSoEver, as you can imagine, if a driver from the Other direction has chosen the same tack, you are in a Situation. Many a time we have been heading directly towards a vehicle, coming head on, full speed, and as I am screwing up my eyes and uttering an almost-audible plea to the good Lord, either we or the oncoming Transportation swerves in the nick of time back to the correct side of the road.

There are many road projects going around Ghana at the moment. This in itself adds to the excitement. At first you think ‘wow, they are actually doing something with this terrible section of road’. But, as I used to say to my mum when she would ask me why I hadn’t tidied my room, things have to get worse before they get better. And worse they are, for months. And months. They dig up the half-road that was there, and you are driving along laterite (the orangey clay which makes up most of Ghana!) roads. Which is fine for a while, but they don’t hold up for long. And then the works companies stockpile their sand/cement/aggregates actually On the roads, some one side, some another, so driving past them is rather like a slalom run, the width of one vehicle only. Read earlier for Passing Something Coming The Other Way!

On the bigger road works, they will employ guys to stand at either end and act as temporary traffic lights. This sometimes involves the use of red and green flags, sometimes merely a hand gesture, where upside-down wiggle of the hand means something entirely different from a right-way-up wiggle of the hand, and I am very glad I am not driving, because I cannot tell the difference! Sometimes, they have a guy in the middle communicating to his colleagues at either end what is going on. The effectiveness of this is debatable. I think one of my scariest moments was sitting halfway along a stretch of roadworks, in the middle of the road, half on paved road, half on laterite, with a heavy stream of traffic coming at us on one side, and a huge piece of Construction Equipment coming at us on the other…

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