Before getting to Ethiopia, I assumed that, given the poverty I knew existed there, the number of cars on the road would be minimal. I was wrong.
The traffic, both inside and outside of Addis, is quite something! The tiny blue-and-white taxis, the blue-and-white mini vans that charge passengers by the kilometre, the buses, trucks and endless cars...it's amazing. Anyone who's been there will instantly know what I'm talking about when I say that the traffic seems to be quite - hmm, what's the word - chaotic! There are very few traffic lights (and given how a few of our drivers drove right through red lights, I'm not sure that the ones that do exist mean much anyway), and cars basically go in whatever direction they want to...whenever they want to. I remember laughing once while we were trying to turn onto a small dirt road: a driver at the entrance to that road was in the middle of executing a nine-point u-turn in the middle of jam-packed traffic and in the middle of a tiny intersection that was already filled with cars trying to get by...just 'cause he suddenly remembered that he should be going in the opposite direction, I guess. Pedestrians, too, just crossed the street wherever they wanted to, skimming by cars and trucks mere millimetres away. The blaring of horns, the yelling from car windows, the shouts of pedestrians crossing the road and the accompanying hand slaps on car hoods as they warned drivers to stop...all of these are commonplace sounds in Addis.
For some reason, though, there was not a single time during all of our driving around there, when I felt in danger. Did the cars/taxis drive right on each other's bumpers? Absolutely. Did they cut each other off and squeeze into places I would have thought too tight for even the smallest of cars to fit into? Resoundingly, yes. Did drivers complain about all of the other drivers not knowing what they were doing, even as they were in the midst of interjecting their own car where it undoubtedly did not belong? Mmm, a big yes on this one, too. And yet, as crazy as it was, there was a system to it all (I think/hope)...a system that worked. Though you wouldn't know if from the way people drove, there's a law in Ethiopia that dictates that if a taxi driver hits and kills a pedestrian, that driver is jailed...for fifteen years...no trial or anything, it's automatic. I think the law was something like three or five years for causing injury. Maybe that's what gives the pedestrians the confidence they clearly seem to have when they plunge off of the curb into the street and hope to arrive on the other side intact.
I was amazed, too, by how heavy the traffic was at night. On our last evening in Addis, Geoff and I went to a wonderful (and noisy, and vibrant, and busy) restaurant called 'Cloud Nine' (and may I just add a yumm factor here that celebrates the recollection of the coconut chicken/veggie dish that we ate that night). Traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, was incredibly heavy - even at about 9:30pm. As our evening drew to a close and we waited outside for our pre-arranged taxi, police officers slinging rifles over their backs patrolled the sidewalks, ever on the lookout for crowd trouble, it was that busy. Cars and people were everywhere. Shouting, honking, laughter, motors revving, taxi drivers yelling good-naturedly at us to hire them...the sounds fill my head even now, thinking about it. Cars on the street were at a standstill, locked in what seemed to be a rush hour traffic jam, despite the hour. It was incredible.
I wish I'd taken more pictures of the city traffic - the chaos and the congestion. The few I ended up taking (below) were almost an after-thought; next time I'll be more deliberate about trying to capture the traffic essence. But for now...