musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Honking Demystified

As a general rule, I like driving. If there's an option that involves me at the helm of a motor vehicle, that is most likely the option that I'll take.

Over the years I have driven in a few countries and come to realize that Lady Roadrage tends to take on different personalities based on where she's located. Nothing showcases her personality dysfunctions quite like the rampant use of the car horn.

As I was driving home from our Addis office today I was struck by the sheer amount of times that I either 1. honked or 2. was honked at. What does all this honking mean? And how does the definition change from place to place?

Look no further. Never fear. Geographically appropriate definitions of honking are right here.

Middle America i.e. Minnesota or Kansas: "Excuse me sir, but my automobile just happens to be situated in the general vicinity of your automobile and, if you don't mind me saying so, I'm not sure if you even realize I'm here! Sorry to bother you and have a great day!"
(Alternately: "C'mon honey, stop curling your bangs. It's bowling night!")

Washington, DC:  "Dear Mr. Taxi Cab - just because you drive like a dog in heat in Eritrea doesn't make it ok to drive like that in the district. Please don't hit me."

Texas: does the theme song to Dukes of Hazard even count as a horn?

Ankara, Turkey: "My bumper is clearly in front of yours and my car is faster than yours anyways (not to mention bright yellow), so I'm pretty sure I have the legal right of way in this situation."

Istanbul, Turkey: See "Ankara" above, with the following addition. "I may also be honking at you to make way for my Hummer on this thousand-year-old cobblestone street made for horses."

Baghdad, Iraq: "I am in an up-armored vehicle and get very anxious when sitting in traffic. So kindly move or I will give you a dirty look or, depending on how much coffee I had this morning, shoot my AK in your general direction."

London, England: Well, I haven't actually driven in London but I've been honked at plenty for failing to read the sign on the crosswalk that tells idiot non-Brits like me to look to the right for oncoming traffic. So the meaning is probably something to the affect of "Get yur bloody Yank ars out of me way! Blimey!!"
(full disclosure - I have no idea what blimey means and refuse to look it up)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: "I'm not stopping either because 1. I'm a jerk and don't want to miss Baywatch or 2. the breaks on my 1978 Lada haven't worked for 6 months. In any case, it would thus be wise not to pull out in front of me."

Juba, South Sudan: "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Very Large Cow, I have now been sitting here for 10 minutes watching you chew. Would you kindly mind stepping to the side so I can pull into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a meeting? Thank you."
(Alternately: "No, turning on the lights of your motorbike does not make your fuel go down faster so please turn on your friggin' lights before I sit you down and make you listen to Bangs' new album.)

Nairobi, Kenya: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"
(Also relevant for Cairo)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This is simply too good not to link to...

Well done Bored in Post Conflict. Well done.

For all you music lovers out there, keep an eye out for Bangs and other up and coming South Sudanese superstars...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Just a regular 'ol Friday night in South Sudan

If there were a list of 101 things for which a sarong is useful, ‘holding in place the fuel tank of a Toyota Land Cruiser’ should definitely be one of them.

Let me explain.

On Thursday afternoon I was asked if I’d like to go to one of our field offices about two hours from Juba to meet some new staff and monitor some payments that were being made. I don’t get out nearly enough to the field, so I jumped at the opportunity.

Payments were interesting but largely uneventful, with the most unique part being the man who showed up to our vocational training session for electricians mind-blowingly drunk at 11am. No, sir, you cannot participate in the training.

Staff meetings were quite useful, though again, nothing extraordinary. It was shaping up to be a very worthwhile, and altogether routine, visit. I had made plans for the evening and was looking forward to having a nice, easy Friday evening.

That's when the fun started.

But first a bit about our vehicles. As seems to be the case with many NGOs, we have several vehicles that, under normal circumstances, would be considered good only for a demolition derby. South Sudan tends to destroy even the meanest of vehicles, reducing them to cannon fodder in 2, 3 years tops. When I arrived we had 6 vehicles broken and unused with one and a half in the rotation. I’m not joking.

One of the ones resurrected from the dead was affectionately named Mortimer (Morty for short), in honor of his sorcerer-like qualities. Periodic ticking noises from the glove box are mixed with regular whirring of the tires, topped off by eerily flickering lights that are usually reserved to creepy haunted houses on my least favorite day of the year. He’s a great car – tough, plenty of personality, and surprisingly reliable. Until Friday that is.

No doubt wanting to get home before dark, our driver decided to push Morty that little bit harder on the way home. This was met with regular requests to slow down by those of us whose lives were in his hands. Nonetheless, about half way into our journey, his exuberance was rewarded with a sound akin to ceramic plates shattering right underneath our feet (think Jewish wedding). Full on blowout – Morty’s back right tire didn’t even wait for us to pull off the side of the dirt patch some call a road before completely deflating. Problem #1 of the afternoon.

Luckily changing a tire was second nature to our driver and something I had quickly learned how to do as a freshman in college when a friend and I came upon a very attractive/distressed young lady with a flat on the side of the road. Problem #1 of the afternoon solved.

With the tire in place it was time to hit the road again. “Not so fast” purred Morty as we attempted to start him up to no avail. Problem #2 of the afternoon.

After trying unsuccessfully to jump start him using techniques well-honed by car burglars worldwide, we finally succeeded after a gaggle of Kenyans hanging off the side of a truck (they’re called ‘lorries’ here) stopped and pushed us out of the ditch in which we had successfully lodged ourselves. This earned them a smile from a now impressively dirty white guy and ~$5 from our senior finance officer. Problem #2 of the afternoon solved.

At this point there are two thoughts going through my head. 1. Perhaps Morty is actually female… I don’t know any men who are as temperamental as this. I wasn’t giving him/her enough positive reinforcement and encouragement - I know that's it. It was my fault. And 2. nothing  else can possibly go wrong now, I have dinner plans!

Wrong again.

In what turned out to be my favorite noise of the day, less than 5km from the site of the first problem we heard what can only be described as a wrench thrown into a hack saw. Upon further inspection it wasn’t a wrench, but rather a fallen fuel tank dragging along the ground underneath our vehicle that was making the God-awful noise. Problem #3 of the afternoon (now evening).

Hmmm. So the fuel tank – situated underneath the car towards the middle of the chassis – had fallen after some of the steel brackets meant to hold it in place had broken. Ok. New one on me. Didn't even know that was possible.

With night fully upon us and not another vehicle (nor sound for that matter) anywhere near, the search for a solution began in earnest. Our driver quickly gathered the jack from the back of the vehicle, pumping the tank back into place. But, unfortunately, that didn’t solve the issue of keeping it in place so that we could continue on what by then had already stretched into a memorable journey.

Approximate inventory of items in the vehicle at the time:
  • Two tires (one of which had an inner tube recently blown to pieces)
  • A one meter rubber string
  • Jack
  • A short canvas rope
  • 3 tired expats and a still-giggling driver
  • Discarded banana peals
  • One uneaten egg sandwich with fries (or chips if you're a non-American)
  • A sarong
(Cue MacGyver music)

The driver on his back underneath the vehicle and me on my hands and knees holding the flashlight/miscellaneous car fixing materials, we managed to 'secure' the gas tank in place with, you guessed it, the sarong. The canvas rope was used for additional support, but it was the colorful red, purple and blue bit of fabric that ultimately saved the day. 

Problem #3 of the afternoon/evening owned.

After that I drove, not wanting the driver to reach 4 strikes. I drove slowly. Very slowly... in first/second gear in fact because the car would die if I let my foot off the accelerator (I'm no mechanic but that was probably related to the gas tank coming dislodged). Avoiding pot holes like the plague. But alas... successfully. 

So yes, we finally limped back to Juba, only to have Morty finally give his last breath as I removed my foot from the accelerator and onto the brake in front of our compound. 

That was 2100 on Friday night. By 2130 I had already finished my first beer.