Friday, September 5, 2008

Driving and hitchhiking (originally posted March 14)

Please see the recently added addendum to this entry, below.

The highway that passes by our school is the only paved road in the area, connecting the town of Mambone to National Highway # 1. While sitting in the passenger seat of my senor director’s car, I realized that a safety hazard exists because this road serves as a dual purpose playground for kids / audobon. Since maybe only 2-5 cars pass each hour, the road is predominantly used as a footpath. These cross-purposes of the road make for some interesting close calls, especially considering that pedestrians do not have the right of way. Liberal use of the horn gives the pedestrians loitering in the middle of the street about 5 seconds to clear out or be smashed by the fast moving car. Hitch-hiking is pretty safe here because it’s not like the U.S. where just anyone can have a car. Only someone of significant means and social standing can afford to have one, and they are often willing to pick up a neighbor as a spare passenger on the way to town or even pick up a well-seeming stranger. As a muzongo, people are automatically less suspicious of me and more interested in giving me a ride, but that’s not to say that all or even most rich Mozambicans will stop to pick me up. In fact, last time I saw lots of private cars pass before finally being picked up by a semi-truck, and I had to pay (usually in a private car the ride is free). That was cool, I got to sit way up high and see the life that country music singers so often talk about.

There was what is called here an "infelicidade" or an unhappiness, which I will tell you about.
Having read Newsweek in the ambulance which was illegally giving me a free ride (ssshhhhhh!) to Vilanculos with my friend the Dr., I mused on economics and particularly an op-ed by yet another foolishly hardy liberal who accused Reagan of not being an economic conservative because of his combination of deficit spending matched with tax cuts--a.k.a. the Reaganomics that won the Cold War--I decided definitevly that I will return to my old job at First American if they will take me back in order to create a better business environment between the US and Brazil, which I imagine would be needed for us to get into a healthy market and ease some of the pressure from domestic slow-down. Fresh on my mind was the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, images which evidenced the epic proportions of a penchant for empire and related ambitions and topped off by the truly moving finale of the gold medal winner of old, legendary, running in air, which wet my eyes when I stumbled into a televised living room just in time to see it. I want to see more US ecomonic involvement abroad, I think our companies are cleaner than the competition, say what you will. I slept, opposite a girl whose broken femur had not healed correctly and had left her with a 3rd knee, I fancied that my Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) training helped me understand why, the traction brace on her leg was made to tight and held the bones too far apart. I was awakened by the Dr., our car was stopped and there was talk of a child who had been run over by a car. I got my shoes on and hopped out with untied laces. Again the WAFA fantasy that I might be able to know or do something but I was with a Dr. so of course I quickly realized that he was the only person necessary at this time. I watched, he put his hand over the child's stomach under the ribs and waited, maybe 30 seconds to a minute, while family and the distraught driver that had hit him looked on, and pronounced the child dead. Of the 3 black men in the family, one had eyes that spoke particularly loud of remorse, pain, and deprivation, through redness and wetness. The white man present, the driver, a Zimbabwean, was helpless, distraught, innocent and concerned. His family, wife and 4 small children, remained crammed in the 3rd and final row of the parked car, which was loaded and was full of vacationer's happy bags and disorganized bundles, so out of key with the current mood. While the child continued to lay, lifeless, on the carbon fiber trailer, the turned to what to do now. They had been on their way to the hospital in Inhassoro when they flagged down the ambulance. I tried to pass responsibility on to my friends in Inhassoro but they did not answer their phones, and reluctantly I gave up my shot at internet in Vilanculos to be the translater. Hospital, police station, hospital, scene of the accident, and court date set for the following Monday. I have to say that I enjoyed all of this probably too much, it was just so interesting and out of the normal, and my position was certainly enviable, since I had nothing to lose, was not facing jailtime with a child's life on my conscience, had not lost a family member. Anyway, overall I thought the police were very civil and efficient in handling everything, just that the civil court extorted a bunch of money from the guy to be held "in escrow" until the insurance comes through, I can't believe he'll ever get it back. I felt like a lawyer, and even right before we parted ways I read his insurance policy when he had finally won back his freedom and advised him as best I could how to interpret the policy and that he had to insist on them showing him the exception, since he was otherwise covered for this incident as I could tell.
The child had run out a driveway, clear across one lane of traffic and into the opposite lane while chasing a bicycle tire rim he was pushing with a stick (a favorite game here) and despite skid and swerve the car hit him. The driver says he was going 80km/hr and I could tell he wasn't drunk at the time, innocent. So just remember, when you're driving in Africa, use your horn like it was going out of style, even before you see the kids near the street.

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