Anarchy in Africa

9 06 2013

2012-12-29 09.29.53

Got hit on my motorbike again this week.  That is the fourth time.  No injuries.  Again.  My dear brother Marc Carrier was run off the road a couple of months back on his motor bike and had to have knee surgery.  I have been run off the road at 80kph twice but both times I was in a place with a wide and clear hard packed dirt area on the side of the road I could simply coast to a stop on.  Praise God.

Driving in Africa on a motor bike is fun, adventurous and dangerous.  My first few days after buying my little Chinese motor bike, (for around 700 dollars), I was pulled over by a policemen.  Now they don’t have cars or motorbikes to pull you over with they just flag you down as they stand on the side of the road or in this case stand at an intersection.  I had not broken the law.  But I was going to get a lecture about riding here.  I was in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.  He scolded me for NOT running a red light.  You see here red light is great decoration.  They change colors from red to yellow to green just like back home in America.  But NO ONE uses them to either know when to stop or go.  We have rules of the road here but they are not written.  In fact I have no idea why they write rules about driving in Tanzania at all.  It is the unwritten ones the officer wanted me to understand.

You see here we have a hierarchy.  We have goats and donkeys on the road.  They don’t count.  We have pedestrians and they do NOT have the ride of way.  A real problem for me as I refuse to participate in their intimidation.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Next we have push carts, then three wheeled taxis called tuk tuks or bajaji’s depending on where you are.  Then there are the motor bike riders.  Our bikes are called piki piki because that is the sound they make at idle.  If you use them for a cab and carry passengers you are a boda boda.  We are next in the hierarchy.  Then comes cars, gari’s and then vans, matatu’s and the rich peoples cars, ( I will explain later) and trucks, called lorrys and finally the big buses.  They are the top of the food chain along with the few large tractor trailers.  Piki Piki’s  due to their size and versatility are expected to basically NOT impede traffic.  As I was told by the policeman it was my job to NEVER cause anyone to slow down or stop.  Since no one stops at the traffic lights and I stopped at a red one, he informed me I was going to get killed.  And I would get NO sympathy.  He told me to learn and abide by the unwritten rules or sell that motor bike and get a cab like all other Mzungus.  That is, white people.  Of course I can’t buy a car, only the rich can do that here.  They drive like they own the road and everyone else is a peasant.  They drive like the road is theirs and everyone else is scum and need to bow and scrap when they near.  And the Africans do.   The most self seeking and intimidating drivers on this continent are Africans that have “arrived” and drive an expensive vehicle.  I have literally seen them push a pedestrian off the sidewalk with their front bumpers and then roll the window down to cuss them for not getting out of the way.  The pedestrian apologized.

Now goats, donkeys, cart pushers and pedestrians are basically excused for their actions due to their inability to maneuver at high speeds.  Although they are hated by the rich Africans.  Or at least they treat them like they hate them at rush hour.   Everyone just tries to intimidate them into staying out of the way.  This is done by incessant honking, purposefully driving right at them as though you intend on murdering them and sometimes using your vehicle to literally push them out of the way.  I did not mention bike riders but they are like pedestrians.  I have witnessed them pushed off the pavement by cars who wanted to pass by but did not get the response they wanted when they honked their horn.  Cab drivers have opened their doors purposefully to bump me out of the way while I am driving and as I mentioned just the other day I was hit.

It was not a normal collision. A driver was next to me.  I was driving near the shoulder.  We are expected as motor bike riders to use the sidewalk, shoulder, median, ditches, passing lanes and in between lanes as our domain if the road is occupied.  As I passed this little Rav 4 a car in front of me hit his brakes.  I then pulled into the lane with the little Rav and apparently he did not approve.  As is acceptable here he quickly accelerated up to where he could get his left fender parallel with my rear tire and then turned left to push me back out of his lane.  As he did he began to push my rear tire to the point of making me turn sideways.  I think he just wanted to bump me and had no idea that this was a possible out come of our contact.  I,  of course, had no idea what was happening.  I had cleanly passed him and was in front of him, so to me for some unknown reason my bike was moving sideways.  We were going only about 20 mph.  I finally realized that a car was pushing me.  I cut my front tire back towards the direction we were all trying to travel and of course the car quickly realized that if he persisted he was going to force me completely sideway meaning I would then go down in front of him and he would run over me.  He hit his brakes.  Now a few months back I would have been furious at this overt and callously aggressive action.  Now I simply understood we were now driving under a set of rules I had not seen in Arusha, Tanzania.  I call those rules.  Dar es Salaam rules.  The rules the cop explained.

You see Arusha is a very nice civilized place to live.  I live 45 minutes from here and we have different rules but that is not relevant here.  In Arusha, we stop at lights use our blinkers to turn and drive a  reasonable speed.  But this was rush hour.  I had not driven here in rush hour.  I quickly realized, we were under Dar es Salaam rules.  I don’t know if you ever saw the movie Syrana staring George Clooney.  In it he realizes he was set up and finds out the man that has ruined his life.  They have a conversation at gun point.  George informs him that if he does one more thing towards him or his family he will murder him, his wife and children and destroy every friend and thing in his life he values.  At least that is how I remember it.  The man looked at him and smiled cynically and said, Beruit rules?  Beruit rules, Clooney answers.  These two men had been spooks and counterterrorist spies in the cold war.  They now had a clear understanding of each other’s intentions.  This is what I now realized in Arusha.  During rush hour everything changes, even in Arusha.  Dar es Salaam rules.

Everyone drives as though there were complete anarchy and that the world is coming to an end and they must get home to save their women and children.  They will batter, swerve, intimidate, drive down the wrong side of the road and yes even push another vehicle just to get a momentary advantage in traffic.   I refuse to drive this way in relation to those underneath me in the hierarchy but I must understand the rules in order to survive and thrive.  I was not angry at the drive of the Rav vehicle.  I just now understood the rules were changed.  But I know the rules.

I learned to ride in Dar es Salaam and the policeman’s advice was correct.  I have been in a pack of 30 motor bikes riding mirror to mirror spreading across two lanes and both shoulders at 60 kph and approached an intersection with cars going in all directions.  I glanced at the other riders.  They were all inches from each other and I was completely surrounded.  They smiled.  They all hit their horns about 50 meters from the intersection and we just went through the red light.  There were cars going every direction.  But without a single word of conversation these young men all knew we were a formidable force since we were so numerous and that by our ability to intimidate the other vehicles we were in fact moved up the hierarchy to near the top.  No one hit their brakes we just went through horns blazing.  All the cars hit their brakes and we went through.  They looked at me and smiled again.  Dar es Salaam rules.

Now in Dar it is crazy.  I have driven all over the Eastern side of Tanzania.  It is beautiful.  I have driven in Nairobi, Kenya.  A much larger city than Dar. But there Is NOTHING like Dar es Salaam.  We are the Beruit of driving aggressively.  It is insane.  But out on the highway I just love it.  I think of my dad as I ride.  Dad used to love to drive around our county back home.  I have a feeling that when he was younger riding his bike he would have loved to drive here.  Not in Dar perhaps, but hey even here, it is fun.  Piki Piki riders never get caught in traffic jams.  We almost never stop.  We go between lanes of traffic, jump curbs, drive in medians and the police give us the thumbs up.  Now I still get pulled over sometimes. But mostly so policemen can practice their English.  I am not kidding.  They ask me where I am from, where I am going and how I like Tanzania.  I tell them I am a missionary.  I am here to tell people about Jesus and that I love it here.  I tell them I have a house here now and I have been adopted by the Wameru.  They laugh approving of my presence and constantly chant, karibu.  It literally means welcome.  But it means more.  It means they personally welcome me into their lives and approve and applaud my being here.   They are thrilled that I love their country and people so much that I have built a home here.  They slap me on the back and keep saying karibu.  I say asante kaka.  Thank you brother.  They grin so big I thing their face will split.  They wave me on.

I get back on the road.  Sometimes I pull off the road and drive into the bush.  Less than 5 kilometers off the road where I travel sometimes the Masai still kill lions.  I see baboons and antelope.  I don’t do this often and I don’t go far.  But I do love to go.  But I soon return to the road.  I have to remind myself not to stare at the mountains and splendor of the plains, bush and animals.  I have to remember to keep my eyes on the road.  Sometimes it’s hard.  There are speed bumps here that are enormous.  They call them tuta’s.  It’s the same word for the explosion of bombs.  That is because if you get distracted and hit one without slowing down you will get a real close and personal understanding why they call them that.  Been there, done that.  Not fun.  But remember we don’t have policemen with police cars to enforce the speed limit.  We have tuta’s.  Speed for long and you will find one.  They are quite effective for keeping the speed down.  My dad would love the freedom of having almost no rules or laws.  Just you and the road, your wits, a few informal rules and a world of adventure.  You are all on your own here on the road.  Even in traffic.


Well I know this is not my usual post.  No baptisms, no hungry and the poor that I love.  Just a story about Africa and motor bikes.  It’s different here. I know it is not for everyone.  Especially the driving part.  But I must tell you that if you pay attention, and the sun is shining and the mountains are near, the plains to your side and the zebra are staring at you as you pass you can’t help but just sigh.  I am a guy, what can I tell you.  What can I say?  Yes there is anarchy in Africa.  Especially on the roads.  But sometimes I ride along on my way to tell someone about Jesus and I think.  Does it get any better than this?  The scenery, the adventure, the opportunity to tell people about the Lord and have this much fun.  I know people think this is a sacrifice.  And I dearly miss my family.  But sometimes I ride along and smile to myself.   I am humbled by the kindness of the Lord to allow me to be here and serve Him.  Sometimes I am lonely.  But at those times on the road, I am overwhelmed by this wonderful life.  This privilege, this adventure and my God.




3 responses

10 06 2013
W. Wayne Pugh

Oh my Friend, you made tears trickle down my face. I wonder why so many times that you and Max and I had such an adventurous spirit and we traveled the world and preached to the poor, hurting and destitute. The three of us helped people that could not help themselves. I so love and admire you and what you are doing for the King and the Kingdom. I weep as I read your posts and blogs. There is a MISSIONARY IN ME! Having ministered in 61 nations, you would think would be enough but the GO YE INTO ALL NATIONS burns in me night and day. Thank You! Thank you for your passion and your sacrifice to obey God’s Call for you life. Many lives will be added to the Kingdom because of your obedience. I love you my Covenant Brother!

12 06 2013
Ike Umeadi

Brother, this post is one of the most beautiful things I have read in a long time. God bless you, dear brother,

18 06 2013

This was a beautiful post! May God continue bless your mission!

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