Thursday, October 28, 2010

Adapting to Change

Transitions are formidable because the rules change from place to place. How one operates, interacts; what is acceptable, what not. For the most part, the rules are not written, so one sails uncharted seas for a while.

Quelimane didn’t boast a single traffic light.

Harare has a plethora of traffic lights, about half of which don’t have electricity at any given moment. When the energy is off the challenge begins. The four-way-stop is unknown here, so each motorist develops a style. Some are inchers, some are blusterers, and some just figure they have the right of way and everyone had better stop for them. Some have accidents. I catch myself trying to route my trip where the electricity might be on.

Intersections provide another risk: blind begging must be profitable at the busiest corners because blind people led by small children walk up and down the white dashes between cars when the light is red. When it is green, they just stop between lanes (not on the median strip) and wait. Crossroads are also popular vending places and one can buy cell phone credit, newspapers and blow up beach toys at most busy lights. If a transaction hasn’t been completed, the entire line of cars waits while the vendor fiddles for change.

Quelimane is not blessed with parking lots, as the Portuguese pretty much built everything very close together. So parking is done on the street and people weave among parked cars. Harare has parking lots wherever there are stores. And vendors populate most parking lots. One hot afternoon while I waited for Phil to find a saw in a hardware store I was approached by vendors to buy: strawberries, brooms, a reflective triangle, steering wheel covers, window awnings, fly swatters, electric fans, knife sets, and spray bottles. All in only 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the market for any of these items but the strawberries.

Let me not forget the policemen. They are ubiquitous on Zimbabwean roads, but especially in the city. On a 10-minute trip to drop Phil off, I passed three police roadblocks. They are particularly interested in the stickers on the windshield, reflective triangles (hence the vendors), reflective vests, and fire extinguishers: all required by Zimbabwean law.

Such are the vagaries of crossing a simple African border.

1 comment:

Vicki a.k.a. Jarm said...

At least Harare HAS traffic lights...in Cairo, there were none. Half the fun was learning to cross the street with the traffic moving at top speed!
I love the artful descriptions of your new environment. Sometimes you just have to see things in a humorous light to lessen their effect.
We will continue to pray that you will acclimate well, and see your mission clearly.
Love you lots...