I used to go skiing several times a week while in high school (I worked at a small ski resort in Minnesota). My time on the slopes lessened in college as I moved to the even flatter state of Illinois, but I still made trips out to Colorado now and then. Now, I live in the Land of a Thousand Hills (and even Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest point in Africa – is only 500 miles/800 km and one boarder crossing away), but of course being on the equator and all that ruins any chance of snow around here. Sad day.
But really, it’s okay everyone – I get to go skiing every day. I’m convinced that the best way to describe driving a car in Rwanda is to compare it to skiing or snowboarding. Here’s my rationale:
- Conditions always change. Some days a road is potholed and rough; the next day it’s paved and smooth. Moguls vs. groomers.
- Signs are somewhat taken seriously, like the orange slow sign on the mountain or the red stop sign by our house. But let’s be real, if the road is empty or the run is clear, you’re flying past that that sign and not worried at all.
- Patrolling happens unexpectedly. Ski patrol or the police randomly (it seems) make a big deal about things that didn’t matter yesterday. (Confession: I probably just don’t know the rules of the road well enough yet and the police are doing fine work here.)
- Falling in tree wells and rain ditches – get too close to a tree while skiing, you’re sinking down… veer off the road a tiny bit in Kigali while looking at Google Maps on your iPhone (Note: not a reliable idea to begin with. Further explanation: both looking at your phone while driving or attempting to use Google Maps is risky business), it’s game over.
- Weaving and adjusting your route is the norm. When lanes merge, when runs cross, or when you’re at an intersection of any type, you look around, you might slow down or speed up, but the goal is clear: don’t get hit and don’t hit anyone. Honk often or shine your brights. Yell at the kid who cut you off on the slope. It’s a dance and you eventually learn the moves.
Endnote: This post makes driving sound much more fun than it actually is. Even if there’s a sense of the “I’m in a videogame” feeling that many expats initially experience, real life includes many more moments of frustration, near accidents, delays, and road closures. I’m glad the school is a five-minute walk from our house. I’m also glad that many roads are comparatively great here.