Monday, August 26, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

There’s No Place Like Home

I know that I have written quite a bit about driving here and how crazy it can be but I just can’t help writing one more post on the subject. This time I AM the driver! That is right friends and family my vehicle arrived in Addis Ababa in one piece. I’ve actually had the car since the end of June I’ve just been neglecting my blog and so this is the first that you get to hear about it.

Before we left the states we purchased a year 2000, 4 wheel drive Nissan Pathfinder for about $4,000.00. We put about $1,000.00 into fixing her up a little bit and then sent her on the long journey to Djibouti where she sat for an ungodly amount of time. By the end of May our precious little SUV arrived in Ethiopia but it took a good bit more time to register the car and get the insurance and license plates and the other things needed to make it legal to drive the vehicle in Ethiopia.

Here is our car.  Before we moved...obviously! 

Days after we returned from our big adventure up north the Hubs got on a jet plane and headed out on his big solo trip of about 2 months and 4 countries in Southern Africa. Leaving me and the three monsters….I mean darling children, here in Addis. Now don’t feel too sorry for me. This is not my first rodeo; I’ve lived sans the Hubs more times than I can count and for much longer than a measly 8 weeks. However to say that it wasn’t challenging at times would be a lie. 

Anyway, one reason it was not really that bad to be here alone was that my boss (yes I have a job here, more on that at another time) allowed me to borrow her car and driver while she was on vacation back in the States. Everyday or so Abiy would pick me up and take me where I needed to go as well as take me to work.

Since the Hubs has been away, things like checking the mail, putting in work orders (see broke down palace) and buying food from the commissary are all annoyingly challenging! The Embassy is not close by at all! Driving to the Embassy takes a minimum of 30-40 minutes! The work must be done however and someone’s got to do it! I asked Abiy to take me to the Embassy to check the mail and put in a few work orders. While I was at the Embassy I decided to check on the status of my car. I knew that it was in the country; "maybe it will be ready at the end of the week." I thought. I stopped by the appropriate office gave my name and asked about my vehicle. The man immediately pulled a file off of his desk and handed it to me. Inside the file I found my keys and insurance information. “Your car is ready to go mam, you can take it home today”. Yey……can I really? No I mean, Can I? Like, can I actually find my way back home? Where do I live? Awe, shoot!

I collected the mail and took Jake outside with me (yes Jake was with me). I found Abiy waiting for me in the parking lot. I explained the situation and told him that I’d like to follow him back to my house so that I don’t get lost. I also told Abiy that I’d like to take the “Ring Road”. The Ring Road is the closest thing to a highway here in Addis. People still jump the median and run across, sometimes they sit on the medians and have deep intellectual conversation in the middle of two way traffic, sometimes livestock share the road with the on-coming traffic but compared to the rest of the city the Ring Road is clear driving AND my house is extremely close to the Ring Road.

Abiy agreed to take me home. I loaded Jake into Abiy’s car (I don’t have a car seat in my car) and headed back inside the embassy to procure my vehicle. As I pulled up to the front gate Abiy pulled in front of me and we began our journey back to my house. One thing that must be understood about driving in Ethiopia is the many unwritten rules that are here, take honking the horn for instance. In the USA honking is reserved for road rage and near death experiences, in Addis honking is a way of saying “Hey I’m behind you, passing you, please move over” and is used so frequently that it is hardly worth noting. Also there are no stop signs or lights so you just sort of float out into the intersection and hopefully the traffic stops for you.  

Apparently the “Please take the Ring rd” comment was lost in translation. Ethiopians don’t really understand the American idea of traveling more miles but driving faster. Looking at a map the Ring road is totally out of the way however there is hardly any traffic and you can actually drive 40-50 miles per hour. The route that Abiy took is more direct but goes through an area called Piazza. All of the buildings in the Piazza area were built during the Italian occupation/ colonization of Ethiopia. There are people and cars and animals everywhere and lots and lots of shops! It is terrifying to be a passenger at times, it was horrifying to be the driver in the Piazza and not sure where I was going as well as trying to keep up with Aiby. I attempt to keep up by cutting people off and laying on the horn at even the slightest attempt to get near my vehicle. About half way through the drive Abiy totally busts a move on me, LEAVES ME, to fend for myself in the Piazza or right outside of it actually. Honestly I began to freak a little bit and there was some serious cursing and very colorful metaphors flying around my car at that moment.
He lost me at one of the ten thousand traffic circles they have in this city, so I drove in circles about 5 times before I decided to take guess on the direction that I should take. Then I came to another circle and drove it at least twice bfore deciding on a course of action. As I drove down a hill toward a large intersection I realized that I might just be lost in this place. I’m lost and I can’t ask for directions! I have no GPS (it probably wouldn’t work anyway) and maps are basically non-existent in this country.  I needed a break, I needed to figure out where I was, I needed to freaking call Abiy and ask him where the hell he was!!!

I pulled over to the side of the road and called Abiy, man was I going to let him have it! Not only did he abandon me he had my kid! OHHH!! Well of course the phone network wasn’t working, so much for that plan. Next plan; figure out where the heck I am! I decided to take some deep breaths and look around, really look. It helped I calmed down and noticed the brewery. I’d seen that before, I thought that keeping the brewery on the right was the best thing to do so I turned the car back on (good timing too, people were starting to notice me, blonde chic alone parked on the side of the road) and made a right hand turn. Just when I was beginning to again become concerned, my thoughts growing darker, “I’m lost and I’ll probably die in Addis somewhere”. I saw it! My traffic circle! The circle right near my house! I’d never been happier to see that crowded, stinky, dirty circle in my life! As I drove to my gate I triumphantly beeped my horn to let the guard know that I was there. As he opened the gate I saw Abiy and Jake waiting for me. I stepped out of the car and Abiy said to me “Why you call me”? Really?? You are asking me why? I told him I got lost but I was too proud of myself to be mad! I did it! Made it home, alone, well for the most part. After that I didn’t drive again for about 3 days. It was rather traumatic but I knew that if I had to I could do it.

This is the spot where I park the car!!! It keeps is safe-ish from the rain and hail!

Since then I’ve become surer of myself. That is not to say other funky weird stuff hasn’t happened on the road. I actually drove through the Merkato one day by accident. I was taking my neighbors family back from the Embassy and we decided to try to take the Ring Rd (I know that it can be done!) but we turned in the wrong direction and before we knew it my neighbor said, “We are in the Merkato”. Lucky for me he is Ethiopian and easily got us back to our neighborhood however, as an American Embassy family member it is against the rules for me to go to the Merkato period. The Merkato is a HUGE outdoor market, the largest in Africa, there are lots of thieves and unsavory characters that hang out there. We were also there during rush hour, which made for very slow going. People shouted things at us “America, America” but aside from that it wasn’t all that scary, just really, really crazy! Like a Where’s Waldo book, weird stuff happening all around you. As we left the Merkato behind us Dereje said to me, “Now you can drive anywhere in the world because you successfully drove through the heart of Merkato”! Yeah! Go ME! So next time that you are stuck in your American traffic jam think of me! And remember it’s ok, there are no Donkeys, sheep, goats or packs of wild dogs to worry about on top of the cars. You have streetlights and stop signs. You have lanes and people stay in them, you have your boring, straight, well maintained roads. You will never need to use your 4wheel drive inside of a major city (I did yesterday on the way home from church). It will be OK! Until next time friends and family.

Survival Tips: Driving a car in Addis

1.    Pay attention when driving as a passenger
2.    Have a good attitude in stressful situations
3.    Be sure to have no less than half a tank of gas (you could be driving around lost for a while)
4.    Watch out for the donkey’s they go where ever they want

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading all your posts since June. Thanks for the pics and stories! Keep me coming.