Probably one of the most challenging aspects of our mission here in Ethiopia is navigating the highways and byways of an emerging metropolis of almost 6 million people in the capital of Addis Ababa. That, along with the rural road arteries, all of which are replete with thousands of pot holes and almost no conventional “road rules,” produces that rare mixture of focused tension amidst pleas for protection. Each new day presents plenty of unexpected negotiations with cars, pedestrians, cows, goats, and donkey carts all combined with interesting roadside adventures and observations of local customs. It is “the ultimate road trip” and Elder Harline deserves a spot in the Daytona 500, as far as I’m concerned, as he somehow daily manages to take his lifelong aggressive L.A. driving to a new level! And, believe me, if you’re not proactive in this daring driving scene you’ll literally be left in the ubiquitous and proverbial dust!
So, here are Elder Harline’s observations and some illustrations from his Ethiopian “Upper Division Driving School” course entitled, “On the Road Again . . .”
1. Traffic: Most people in Ethiopia do not have cars, but because of the buses, taxis, vans, trucks, and Bajajs (converted motorcycles with three wheels, a small cab with curtains for doors and a rickshaw- like capacity introduced from India), there’s an overload of traffic. Most major arterial roads in the city have medians about a curb high and two to three feet wide. We have only seen three signal lights in the entire city and that is in the heart of downtown Addis. Sometimes, there is a policeman directing the traffic at the signals but it doesn’t matter whether it is a green or red light – you go or stay with whatever he gestures you to do.
6-10-16 Traffic video 083 (Traffic in the country video)
2. Lines and No Lines: It’s hard to believe, but there is a shortage of taxis, taxi vans, buses, and Bajajs. The lines that form to get into these vehicles are sometimes over 100 yards long. But, the people wait patiently until it’s time to get in and then it’s sardine time! There are also very few lane lines on the asphalt roads. Sometimes you are side by side with six inches to spare in four lanes of traffic. Most claustrophobics don’t drive here!
3. Intersections: Since stop lights are almost non-existent, it’s “dog-eat-dog” when it comes to crossing through an intersection. Vehicles are coming from four directions all at the same time. Truly, if you snooze, you lose!
4. U-turns: There is no such thing as a left hand turn lane and there are very few opportunities to turn left anyway. Occasionally, there is an opening in the median giving you the option of making a U-turn in front of on-coming traffic. Buses make their U-turns from the third lane over from the median stopping all traffic stops in both directions.
5. Double Park: One thing that drives me crazy is the double parking! If someone wants to stop and run into a store they just double park and the three lanes of traffic have to merge into two lanes.
6. Potholes: Potholes come in all sizes, shapes and depths just waiting to swallow your entire car or at least to wipe out your whole front end.
7. Tire Shops: To advertise a tire shop, a stack of tires is placed on the median. Tires are changed and fixed right on the street.
8. Rocks: If a vehicle breaks down, big rocks are placed on the street several meters behind the disabled vehicle where the owner or mechanic fixes it (could be a car or big semi-truck) right at the spot in the street where the breakdown occurred. There’s no such thing as pulling over to the side of the road! Mechanics should get hazardous pay, in my opinion!
9. Exhaust: There is no such thing as smog control in Ethiopia! Watch this video and you’ll get a taste of it! There will be a huge smog problem here in Addis if the government doesn’t institute smog certification stations soon. Cough, cough!
7-11-2016 – Exhaust video 005 (Major exhaust video)
10. Parking Fees: Everywhere you park on the street there is a parking meter maid. They put scraps of paper on your windshield for every half hour you are parked. The cost is 1 BIRR per half hour which is about 5 cents. In San Clemente it’s 25 cents for 12 minutes! Granted, in Ethiopia, you’re not parked at a beach!
11. Toilet Talk: It doesn’t matter whether you are driving in the suburbs or in the country, the men relieve themselves on the side of the roads – no bush or tree to hide, but right out in the open! We’ll forgo any video and photos of that!
12. Cattle, Goats, and Donkeys: Whether in the city or countryside, cattle, goats, and donkeys will cross the road in front of you as attested by the following video. I accidentally gave a 2 MPH bump to a cow on a recent trip! Both car and cow were unharmed and kept going.
6-10-16 Cattle crossing video 125 (Cattle crossing the road video)
13. Gas: Gas is comparable to the U.S. at about $3.50 a gallon for regular. However, some days there is no regular gas available by late afternoon. The rule of thumb is to hunt for gas when the gas gauge registers half a tank. Diesel is in greater supply.
14. Car Purchase: The government has a car tax of 200% on the cost of a new or used car. So, if you buy a $30,000 car (654,000 BIRR, cash only, and the largest paper bill is 100 BIRR), it will actually cost you $90,000 (1,962,000 BIRR; a wheelbarrow of cash!). Crazy expensive! Note: Our car is made in China and is called a Lifan. So far it’s holding up okay.
15. Walking, Walking, Walking: People walk everywhere! There are always tons of people walking on the sides of the roads and across the streets and anywhere they choose. One of the members of the church who drives a taxi hit a pedestrian so he and his family had to house the person in their home until he was recovered from his injuries. Aside from walking, Ethiopians are also world class runners. The top three places of the men at the Boston Marathon were Ethiopians and the Ethiopian women took the top two places. Look for them at the upcoming Olympics – the marathon is always the last event.
16. Trash: Most trash is taken to the dumpster by the homeowners themselves. There is also some trash collection by a hand drawn cart.
17. “That’s Using Your Head:” Many items are amazingly balanced and carried on people’s heads.
18. Donkey carts: When things are too heavy, a donkey cart comes to the rescue. There are hundreds of donkey carts in the countryside cities and villages, and many in the suburbs as well. The carts haul anything from Gerry cans for water, to cement blocks, rocks, building poles for the houses, hay, people, or anything that can be placed on the cart. There is no limit to what a donkey can pull! Now we understand the meaning of “beasts of burden” where donkeys are concerned.
19. Mud and More Mud: It is the rainy season and we mean RAIN. Addis is in the higher western mountains (7,800 feet above sea level) bordering what is called the African Riff. When it rains, it usually is in buckets! It starts in June and ends in September. So far, it has rained at least once every day. The road to our mission office can attest to this.
20. Flooding: No “DRANO” for this section of road after a torrential downpour! The air was also “flooded” with black exhaust as you can see on the video.
7-6-2016-flooding video 015 (Flooding and Exhaust video)
21. Quite a Bed!: Apparently, this man has been sleeping on the top of this traffic barrier for six years now. This wall is only about 14 inches wide and there’s heavy traffic coming in both directions! He could be in the wrong place at the wrong time! How does he turn over? We always feel sad so when we see him. Homeless heartache is universal.
22. Roadside Business: There are rows and rows of roadside businesses along almost every stretch of the roads. Even the side roads that are really alleys that lead to homes have a roadside business every thirty yards or so.
23. Street Sweepers: Because there is so much dirt and mud the government hires street sweepers to keep the median and side gutters clean. It is dangerous because the cars barely miss hitting them and they do an amazing job.
24. The Train: There is a Chinese built commuter train which runs the east-west length of Addis and partly to the north. It is always packed to the gills in rush hour because there are not enough train cars. It costs a minimum of 2 BIRR to get on.
25. Taxi Fares: Taxi fees are based on the time of day that you use them. They are more expensive during rush hour and at night. Certain taxis can only stay in a certain area so it may take a few different taxis to get across town. The buses are the least expensive and the Bajajs the most expensive with the car and van taxis in between. A bus may cost 2 BIRR (10 cents) to go 6 kilometers (4 miles) and a Bajaj will cost 10 BIRR (50 cents) for the same distance.
26. Tsion: Even though the cost of public transportation seems inexpensive, to some families 20 BIRR ($1.00) is beyond their budget. We discovered such was the case in a visit to a sweet family who live an hour’s walking distance from their chapel. They have three children and the father just lost his job. The train would cost 4 BIRR (20 cents) round trip per person, or 20 BIRR ($1.00) for the whole family. The parents elected to send the children so they could attend their Sunday youth classes as 20 BIRR per week was too costly for the whole family. Needless to say, we discussed some alternatives with them. Their children are so sweet and faithful. In fact, their daughter, Tsion (Zion), is featured in an article in the Liahona (January 2016) as a youth “Standing Tall in Ethiopia.” You can find it online at www.lds.org/liahona/2016/01/children/standing-tall-in-ethiopia. Here’s a picture of the family and the Liahona article. That was such a wonderful visit with them.
Well, until the next blog post, it’s time to go to work and get “on the road again . . .”