Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Driving in Arusha

Tanzanians are very patient people.
They will wait for hours for someone to turn up to a meeting. For a shop to open. For a church service to end. For the bride to arrive at a wedding. Very patient.

Until they get behind the wheel of a car.

I was reminded of this today as I was waiting at some traffic lights. People behind me were getting upset that I was sitting there for so long, honking their horns and then eventually driving around me through the red light.

Driving in Arusha has had its frustrations.
However, I think that now that I have become used to it, how will I drive in Sydney traffic again???

Here are a few things about driving in Arusha (and it probably applies for a lot of Africa).

Having a car's indicators on can mean a number of things:
* I am thinking about turning sometime in the next 10 minutes,
* I recently turned onto this road,
* I am going to pass all the cars in front by making a 3rd lane (the third lane can appear in 2 forms - to the left when the car/s drive precariously on the shoulder of the road, or the the right causing oncoming traffic some bother), or
* I don't know it is on.
If the truck in front of you is indicating it could mean:
* It is safe for you to overtake me,
* It is not safe for you to overtake me,
* I am about to overtake another slow moving vehicle in front, or
* I don't know it is on.

creating the third lane using the right-hand blinker

Headlights are often flashed, not used at all (night driving hazard) or kept on high beam (another night driving hazard). The flashing of means:
* Hello (I am often greeted by the girls' school bus driver this way),
* I am about to turn in front of you (incoming) so you should slow down or stop,
* I am driving in the wrong lane in the wrong direction so you should move to the side, or
* I am being kind and going to let you turn in front of me.

Traffic Lights
Merely a suggestion of how traffic should behave. Approach cautiously even when green.

the traffic lights at Sanawari

Speed Bumps
I am not sure why there are any speed bumps on the roads. Traffic rarely exceeds 40 km/hr in town on the paved roads. However, these impediments are placed on the unsealed, pot-holed roads too where the maximum speed is about 20 km/hr... just to slow us down.

speed bump approaching in Sekai - looks harmless from the photo

Again used for a number of reasons:
* get out of the way dog/pedestrian/bicycle rider etc.,
* I am travelling towards you in the wrong lane (a kind warning if you missed the flashing headlights),
* I am drunk or high, 
* a daladala attracting passengers, or
* "Look at me!"
daladalas on the Arusha/Nairobi road

Hand Gestures
There are many hand gestures that are used by drivers and pedestrians alike. Here are some of the ones I have learnt:
* Arm outstretched, hand facing down but waving up and down - I want a lift if from a pedestrian, or I am about to turn/pull out in front of you if from a driver,
* Hand upside down with fingers pointing downwards made by a driver - my car is full so I can't take anymore passengers,
* Index finger held aloft and spun in a circular motion - I am driving all over the place so don't ask me for a lift, and
* Fingers pointing from several people along your route indicating a 'flat' tyre - don't stop as it is usually a scam to rob you.

a truck that got too close to the incredibly deep gutters at Kwa Iddi/Sakina

Other dangers things to watch out for:
* mkokteni (hand carts)
* bicycles
* bodaboda & pikipiki (motorbikes in their hundreds)
* daladalas
* pedestrians
* donkeys
* dogs
* ice-cream sellers (??)
* cattle/goats/sheep
* very deep gutters/drains
* narrow bridges
* pot holes
* presidential motorcades (scary if you have no idea what is happening)
* wedding parties, always featuring a discordant brass band standing on the back of a utility truck, weaving their was slowly through town

a very narrow bridge on a back street heading towards Njiro

In many ways the 'anything goes' mentality of drivers in Arusha has helped me relax in situations that would send me into a cold sweat in Australia.
Yes, I have backed our van out of a parking spot into oncoming traffic (slowly), not bothering to wait for a break in it. I learnt to do this after spending a while sitting waiting for my turn in town, when a kind man approached my car and gave the advice: you just have to push in... be aggressive.
Yes, I have myself made a third lane, pushing in to make a right-hand turn.
Yes, I have driven through a red light.

driving through Olasiti


  1. Well Jenny you should be more than ready to get back into Sydney traffic again. You will find it so ordered, apart from those who don't know what they're doing or from the country, like me when we first moved to Wollongong. Not being used to traffic lights I picked the gap in the traffic and turned right at Corrimal, forgetting I was stopped at a red light!! I only did it once!
    It has been such a wonderful experience for your family and I'm sure it has made your children more thankful for all that they have.
    Janice Kingman

  2. I prayed for your family's safety as I read your post. As you know, having driven on those roads, I know what you are talking about!

  3. In one of his books Nicholas Dryson said matatu/ daladalas follow magic instead of physics. I guess it's true.