It’s no secret to people who know me well that I do not like driving. I don’t like any of it. Not the traffic, not the parking, not the car maintenance. In fact, one of the reasons I moved to New York City was to avoid driving. And even though we bought a car in DC, I still preferred to take the bus or metro if possible.
So naturally one of my biggest concerns about moving to Africa was the driving experience. If I got irritated by driving around the US, where traffic laws were familiar (and exist), how would I feel about Cotonou, where people compare motorcycles to mosquitoes in the way they swarm?
The answer is…it’s not that bad.
We’re actually pretty lucky. We live on a paved road. In fact, our entire commute is on paved roads. We rarely run into much traffic on our daily commute. Parking is ample at the embassy and at the local grocery store. Even the torrential rains that turn some roads into large puddles don’t affect us too much.
But like I said, we’re pretty lucky. Not all driving in Cotonou is so easy. There are a few things that we’ve noticed that make us scratch our heads:
- Cars and motos parking in the middle of the street for no reason, as though no one thought another car might come down that road any time soon.
- Motos driving on the sidewalks, or the wrong way down a street.
- Traffic lights that are either broken or turned off, except when they’re not.
- Police checkpoints everywhere.
- Sidewalks are perfectly acceptable places to park.
- Turning right is always tricky because you never know when a moto will try to zip past you on the right, even if you have your turn signal on and are approaching a turn.
- Unlike in the US, traffic lights are not in places where one can actually see the light if one is the first car to stop. The standard procedure is to see a red light, pull up directly next to it so you can no longer see it, stop and finally go when the light turns green (which you only know about because everyone behind you is honking).
- Some big intersections just don’t have traffic lights. It’s every man for himself.
- The preferred method for turning out into traffic is to simply inch your way out until traffic stops for you. Then you may go.
All in all, though, we don’t have it so bad. I don’t have any terrible horror stories. The parts of town that have truly bad traffic are parts that we don’t have to go to very often. There are enough signs that we can usually figure out what we’re supposed to do. Still, as someone who never liked driving to begin with, “mass transit” might just find its way into the criteria for our next bid list.