The road is long, with many a goat and cow.

A goat, a dog, & a sheep get into a matatu (van used for public transit). When the goat’s stop comes it gets off without paying. Next comes the dog, who pays, but too much & is still waiting for change when the matatu speeds off. The sheep gets off last & pays for its fare with exact change. This is why goats run away from vehicles, dogs chase them, & sheep just stay where they are.

* * * * *

As i weave my way down the dusty track that leads from our friends’ house to town, i stop as two young bulls are led across the track by an equally young boy. I wave to most people i see along the way, whether i know them or not; my white skin practically prescribes such parade-like behaviour. What else do you do when everyone stops to stare as you pass by?

I’m on constant watch as i turn onto a busier & more formalized thoroughfare. At any moment a bicyclist or pedestrian could pop out from behind a tree or building; any spot on the road is a viable crosswalk & it’s up to the motorist to be aware. This goes a long way in explaining why i do two things i wouldn’t normally do: honk my horn for any reason other than anger, & drive no faster than forty kilometres per hour, usually much less.

The horn in southern Sudan is a broader tool of communication than perhaps elsewhere. It can mean, “Hey! I’m here! Be careful when you drive your bicycle across the street.” or “Goats! While sunning yourself in the middle of the road may seem like a good idea, it’s actually not.” or “Would you be so kind as to open the gate to the compound, please?” and possibly many more messages. I won’t even get into blinkers, because they seem to be used here in ways i fear i’ll never understand.

I go so much slower here for many of the same reasons. There is a lot of other traffic on the roads besides motorized vehicles. And i’ve realized that not everyone took the same traffic safety & driver’s ed courses that i did.

Motorbikes & bicycles pass on either side, sometimes at the same time. Pedestrians rarely look one way—let alone both—before crossing. And livestock, well, there’s no predicting what they’ll do on a given day…

On bad days, this sort of situation drives me a bit batty. On good days, however, i kind of enjoy it. It strikes me as a much more human (humane?) & communal way of driving.

In southern Sudan, or at least in Rumbek, cars are not the royalty of the road. (That would be cattle, actually. Another story for another time.) Bikes, pedestrians, goats, motorbikes, sheep, donkeys, dogs, cattle, & cars all coexist on the roadways together. We all have to watch out for each other, but vehicles more so, since they can inflict the most damage. With great power comes great responsibility. Also, it’s hard to wave to every person you pass when you’re going any faster than forty.

When we lived in Canada, i bikes most places & had the acrimonious relationship with most motorists to which i’m sure most urban cyclists can relate all too well. In North America, the car is at the top of the urban food chain. Here, drivers must learn to play well with everyone else.

I like the story at the beginning because to me it combines the mechanical & natural worlds in a playful way, which (on good days) is just how i think it should be.

(Pictures taken by our friend, Frauke).


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