The Country Director must have picked up a thing or two about humour from the wife as he welcomed us all on that first day to Ethiopia by saying, “Welcome to Ethiopia! Just a note for those of you from Ireland, Britain etc., here we drive on the correct side of the road.”
And while technically the Ethiopians do drive on the right hand side of the road, in the interest of fairness they seem to spend an equal amount of time on both sides of the road.
To their credit, the obstacles before them are many and surprisingly varied; from suicidal donkeys, goats, sheep, oxen and camels, to lunatic mini bus drivers, maniac bajaj’s (tuktuks), streams of pedestrians making for the nearest market laden down with goods, children sitting down on the side of the road to sell fruit, and even blind men crossing the road.
The traffic management system could not be described as comprehensive and my traffic management buddies will sympathise with me when I say that the approach to roadworks here is to lay down a few large rocks in the middle of the road in front of you to indicate that road is closed. No need for advance warning! All that is required from the driver is a deftly manoeuvred immediate swerve onto the left hand side of the road (directly into oncoming traffic) and the crisis is averted!
Another feature of Ethiopian driving is beeping etiquette, which is quite important. As an outsider here I cannot pretend to be privy to all the finer details but based on my observations I can reveal that drivers in Ethiopia should beep to indicate a) a left turn or b) a right turn or c) if driving straight ahead for any period of time. To indicate your desire to overtake, slow down, pick up pace, stop, say hello or simply to punctuate an otherwise long and boring journey- the horn should be used.
Indiscriminate use of the horn is everyone’s responsibility- don’t assume someone else will do it for you.
The quick spin in from the airport was my first taste of the roads here and it was enough to confirm to me that there will be no need for Aisling to acquire an international driving licence. I’m quite happy to let someone else do the beeping for me!
Most of the other volunteers heading for far flung regional placements were flying but as luck would have it (and because Woldia has no airport) I got to make the 520 km journey by road.
Just me, my Kenyan brother James and our Ethiopian driver Dereje.