The traffic in The Gambia is no joke as we all know. Too few main roads, too narrow streets and too many vehicles and people and buildings and shacks and goats and donkeys and…..Phew, the list could go on and on forever! Crossing a road by foot is a challenge in its own, you need to have eyes in your neck as well as quick feet and a special certainty in how you stop the slower traffic by raising your hand. As being a Swede, I am used to cross a streets using what is called the Zebra lines. These are the lines we rarely see in The Gambia, but they are painted across the road to mark that here are people supposed to pass.
I have seen these lines on rare occasions, but not many drivers seem to take any notice of them. Perhaps they just see these lines as some kind of decoration. Together with these Zebra lines there is also this other interesting thing called traffic signs. A metal sign that shows if the road is a main road or why not a place where pedestrians are supposed to be able to cross the street without fearing for their lives. The only way of seeing these signs is actually to look for them and the next step is to look at them. So you see; it is not enough to happen to see that there is some kind of metal post at the side of the road. You must look at it too!
And suddenly we are coming to the next problem; what does the sign on the post mean? How many know? As it seems as most drivers here in The Gambia have got their drivers licenses in a box of cornflakes, no education in how to drive is required. Good old corruption is taking care of all our problems in this country! Need a document and are in a hurry? Some cash under the table will solve the problem! Need a drivers licence? A call to someone who knows someone who knows how to solve that petty issue, a knock on your back door, some money exchanged and you can be out driving your car until you drop!
Maybe you are not familiar with the expression: getting your drivers licence in a box of cornflakes? You see; when I was a kid there was always a small plastic toy at the bottom of a cornflakes box. The manufacturers made it more appealing for the families with small children to buy cornflakes by adding a small toy in the box. Kids wanted the toy, persuaded their parents to buy the cornflakes and suddenly you had a win-win situation. The kids got a new gift and ate healthy cornflakes, the manufacturers earned even more money by adding this worth-of-nothing toy in the box.
So what do the drivers licenses have to do with it? Let us play with the thought that the gift in the box of cornflakes is not for kids, instead it is for adults. They pay a sum for the box and find their drivers licence in the bottom of the box. The adults are happy, made almost no effort at all to have this precious gift in their possession and the one who placed the gift in the box doesn’t care a bit about the consequences.
Any kind of driver will now be out on our streets, making life in danger both for themselves, their eventual passengers and all others.
They say that the difference between a man and a boy is the cost of his toys. A car is a toy for too many boys/men who haven’t left their childhood behind them yet. Young men believe that they are immortal and drive like they have no sorrows at all.
Some days ago I spoke to my daughter, back home in Sweden, and told her about the traffic situation here in The Gambia. She was asking if there was a lot of accidents in the traffic here, but considering how crazy the traffic is, the rate of road accidents is surprisingly low. It is amazing to study that even the free roaming animals seem to master the traffic. I have seen goats cross a road without any harm done to them. The goats find their way between the cars and the drivers slow down a bit so the last goat in the flock can pass. Dogs don’t move around in flocks that much, they seem to be more independent to their nature and dance to the beat of their own drum. The dogs here in The Gambia are a very cool specie. They take a nap close to the road and nothing seems to be bothering them. When they feel like it, they cross the road to have a nap on the other side. The dogs are the masters of the traffic here, not the other way around.
I have never been here during the raining season before, so that in its own is a special experience. I wonder if people who are in charge of this country, ever step out of their fancy offices during the months of rain. Perhaps they have a mattress folded under their desks so they can sleep there instead of being forced to drive home.
In Japan this is actually very common at large offices for example. The work ethic there is something else, and many of the Japanese actually work until they die.
This could never be the case in The Gambia, at least as soon as someone has some tiny little power, an office with a desk and a fan.
If you are lucky to have achieved so far in your life, you are making sure to make the best of it. The best doesn’t include being at work on time or turning up at work even if you feel little bit sick.
If you don’t feel like going to work; why not stay home for a day or two? Why finishing some assignment in time, when you can drag your feet? There are always so many excuses you can use; you have been sick, a distant relative died and while you went to pay your respect you had such a good time meeting people you haven’t met for a long time. This you will not tell the complainant, of course, you will only tell that you attended a funeral and some words about ”may this beautiful soul rest in eternal peace ” will be said.
The traffic rules in The Gambia are existing, but not followed. It is like something mean is twisting the mind of the driver as soon as he has his hands on the steering wheel. A vicious laughter can be heard from a taxi driver in dreadlocks and with a symbol for marijuana on his back window. A friend of mine told me that he had been driving the same road for several years. Suddenly one day a police officer stood there, telling him that this road was one way. How can we know, asked my friend, as there is no sign of it. The post is gone and with that the sign. The police officer’s reply was that there has been a sign there before, but it is gone. So my conclusion is; why follow the traffic rules, when you can’t see what to follow? Keep on moving and pray for the best. Vroom, vroom!