Quick plug (god, I love those). All the traffic photos are courtesy of my friend Jill, who rocks a great Kinshasa blog. If you want to read about life here without an undue focus on leather pants and death metal, check it out by clicking here.
I usually pass three of these on my way to buy beer.
Since moving to Kinshasa I have received a far share of questions from my sexy fans all over the world. Most of them involve pleading, desperate requests for autographs, snippets of hair, or wife beater tear away schematics.
A few, however, are more interesting. They ask about life here: what is my house like, how is teaching over here, what kind of food do they have, can you get those kick ass goldfish shoes? That sort of thing. One that I get alot, though, has to do with driving. Namely, what is it like to drive there? After 8 months on the dirt roads and shattered pavement that is the Kinshasa transit system, I feel I have become qualified to answer.
Driving here is like making out with Sally Struthers while hiding a chicken wing in your coat pocket. It's fun when you start out, but you know at some point you're probably gonna get mangled.
And then asked to buy something.
Not a day goes by on the highways and byways (and oh my god noways) of the DRC capital that I don't pass a wrecked car (which may or may not be on fire), a policeman either directing traffic or taking punches at it, or little kids running up and trying to hang off of my rear view mirrors. I thought "hop ons" were just a gag from Arrested Development until arriving here.
And that's not even rush hour.
It isn't all bad, though. On of my favorite moments out here is when I am on the main road and a truck, inpatient with the speed in his own lane, decides going against traffic makes complete sense. End result? the intrepid driver will begin flashing his lights and his horn angrily while driving TOWARDS ME through oncoming traffic (having left his lane five lanes ago) all the while cursing like I had somehow, someway, made the horrible mistake of getting in his way. It's like coming face to face with the wrath of God, if God was a jackass in a beat up tractor trailer. Blows away Gene Hackman, that's for sure.
That son of a bitch.
I can't see the driver's face, but I will bet it's filled with sweet, sweet rage.
It all works out, though, as roads, lanes, and common sense are figments, phantoms which have most likely been crushed under the wheels quite some time ago. One good thing is that no matter where you are and how crazily you are parked, there is always someone around who isn't on fire who will help guide you out of your spot. It's like a cultural imperative. I have been waved out of spots by complete strangers more times than I can count. On the whole, the experience is meditative in a fake zen hippy way: you learn to accept everything. I get into a zone driving here that I haven't experienced anywhere else. It's like I transcend myself and become pure experience. My thoughts are reduced to a single point of action/reaction:
Quick! Dodge the five pregnant woman running out into the road with no lights!
Oh no! That dude is selling tupperware and underwire bras!
Back up! The pack of children is hanging on to the hood again!
Make sure to turn left at the flaming barricade!
I think you get the idea. In a way, it's taken me full circle. As a kid the concept of driving was fun: turbo boosts, red shells, drifting, jumping across huge canyons with my rocket car . . . good times. A ticket to limitless freedom and the sort of girls who would wear red leather thigh high boots. Than real life set in and I had to worry about insurance, "right of way" conventions, following distances, speed limits, and gas milage.
But here, in Kinshasa, I can drive like I always wanted, like video games promised my generation it would be.
Probably too hot out here for those boots, though.
Nonetheless, it makes market day much more exciting.
Some liberties taken, but the general point still stands.