Monday, July 4, 2011

Never Drive Faster Than Your Guardian Angel Can Fly

Driving in Conakry is quite an experience. The infrastructure is, shall we say, limited. My definition of "street" has been vastly broadened in the last three weeks. The main streets in Conakry are paved and no more potholed than downtown Washington, but once you get off the main thoroughfares you are well advised to have a nice high clearance and good grips on your tires. Some of these lesser byways double as drainage ditches during the rains. The main roads are bordered not by a curb but by open sewers, so it's best not to be too close to the edge. Given the more challenging terrain 40mph now feels incredibly fast to me.

The rules of engagement are less actual rules and more traditions. The streets in Conakry are labeled with letter-number codes according to some sort of obscure grid system that doesn't seem to make sense to anybody, but as there are hardly any street signs anyway navigation is done almost solely based on landmarks. Conakry does have a few stoplights here and there, and people do obey them when they are working. Other than that it's a free-for-all. Lanes are not only unmarked but unheard of. I am working on cutting down my American following distance as a square inch of daylight between you and the car in front of you is an invitation for every other car on the road to occupy that space. Turn signals are used almost exclusively by taxis to signal when they are stopping. There are, by general agreement, some one-way streets, but the only way you'll know which those are is when bystanders yell at you when you try to go down them the wrong way.

And then there's night driving. The main streets have streetlights but they haven't worked in decades due to lack of power or having the wiring stolen or both. It's not that hard to see the other cars since they usually have at least some lights working, though you do have to be wary of the occasional fauxtercycle which is in fact a car with one headlight out. No, the harrowing part of night driving is the pedestrians - dark people in dark clothing crossing dark streets whenever and wherever the spirit moves them. This requires a delicate finesse on the headlight controls to have the high-beams on enough of the time to know where the pedestrians are but without blinding the other drivers.

I'm entering this new sport slowly and gingerly, and during daylight hours as much as possible. No casualties so far.


  1. New meaning to the driving game! Remember, 10 points per adult and 20 points per child? New Game!
    Love You,

  2. I know I'm a few years late... but did you buy a car in Guinea? What was the process of finding one like?

  3. I bought one sight unseen from someone else at post who was on their way out. It was a risk, but it worked out fine, and it was nice to have wheels as soon as my drivers license was ready.