Sunday, May 6, 2007

Daredevil, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m afraid of many things: dogs, cancer, getting hit in the head by sports equipment, spiders, just about anything that lives in the ocean, small aircraft, being lost, angry youth, falling out of boats, being burgled or mugged, elephants, divorce, electrocution, early-onset hair loss…

Most of these fears, I realize, are a bit irrational, so I just get on with things and try not to think about them.

But there’s one thing that terrifies me that I can’t avoid, and which really is quite dangerous: African motorways.

Someone recently told me that Malawi has the highest rate of fatal car accidents per car on the road. For example, India has a lot more car deaths than Malawi – but India has a LOT more cars.

Over Easter weekend, there were two serious incidents involving expats – one was killed when a tire blew out and the car drove off the road. Four more people were injured in a collision when the driver swerved to avoid a bicyclist. Just two days ago one of the health workers that my organization works with was hit and killed by a truck while walking down the road.

It’s not just Malawi, either – Ghana was a nightmare. I remember very frequently sitting petrified in a big UN car, thinking how ironic it would be if I survived cancer only to be killed in a freak accident involving a goat, bicycle and minibus.

The “freeways” here are crumbling, twisty, two-lane roads, with no shoulders. You share the roads with potholes, pedestrians, bicyclists, livestock, and semi trucks. And everyone drives about 85 miles an hour.

For my part, I make sure no one I ride with ever goes too fast, and chide them (or when Jorge is driving, scream) whenever the driver makes an ill-advised attempt to pass another vehicle. We’ve also taken to saying a prayer every time I go on the road with my coworkers (In Malawi, you pray before everything). This makes me feel a little better, actually. At least we’ve got that base covered, you know?


Anonymous said...

I think the high number of deaths per car is probably due more to the higher number of passengers per car than other nations, rather than just a greater number of accidents. Think of how many people die when a minibus gets in a bad wreck. Even normal cars are usually overpacked with people.

Gwyneth said...

Ah, that's the economist speaking.

Still, I don't want to hit a minibus either. That sounds bad. Cabbages and potatoes and chickens everywhere...