The year was 2013 and I was beginning to feel like a social outcast. Every time the subject of driving came up in discussions, I was mute, mute as a lamb. I had nothing to say. I was 27 years old and had never sat behind a wheel. I had intentions though; in fact, driving had taken permanent residence at the top of my list of New Year’s resolutions for about three consecutive years but I was running out of time and excuses. Knowing I was heading back to Sierra Leone was all the incentive I needed to get driving. A crash course from a friend with some practice at the DMV was all I thought I needed to be able to drive in Freetown. But boy, was I wrong?
Welcome to the traffic jungle of Freetown where road signs and right of way nor mean natin!
Petty traders are on a mission and that is to sell their wares – on the sidewalks, pavements, highways etc. – everywhere, except for the designated marketplaces; motorists are on mission impossible attempting to drive through crowded highways and marketplaces, literally giving traders a run for their money.
The commercial bikers (known as okada riders), convinced they are invincible, dart in and out of traffic like they are the special feature in a video game.; pedestrians fear cows more than cars; poda poda (min-bus) drivers and their accompanying apprentices (bus conductors) come well trained and armed with an unending list of new-and-improved obscenities. And then there are the mega buses/trucks/trailers, the real ‘kings of the jungle’. It’s no secret that most of them failed to pass emission tests in their countries of origin, often leaving other drivers fighting for clear vision in broad daylight. But maybe the crowning feature is their ability to go untouched in an accident – no matter the type of collision. To put it simply: if they hit you, you’re in trouble. If you hit them, you’re in trouble. Evidently, nothing BUT driving in Freetown prepares you for driving in Freetown.
This realization made me cower on the inside but my fiancé encouraged me to brave it nonetheless. So under his watchful eyes I polished my driving skills, mostly along the beach where learners and young drivers practice. About 2 months to my wedding, on a Saturday, my fiancé stopped by to pick me up from the hair salon in Aberdeen. Eager to brush up on my driving skills, I offered to drive. He obliged. The car was parked on one side of the road facing the east end but at the last moment we decided to head to the beach in the west end. My task was simple enough: get the car on the other side of the road first and head in the opposite direction. I started the car, took my foot off the brakes – hoping it would move but it didn’t – and gave it what was supposed to be a nudge. And that’s when it happened. The ‘nudge’ set the vehicle in motion and it took off at high speed across the road. Panicking and fighting to regain control of the vehicle, I stepped harder on what I thought was the brake. The harder I stepped, the faster it went. The vehicle fled across the road, over the gutter and crashed into a wall with iron bars on the opposite side of the road. I had been stepping on the accelerator/ gas pedal! It was in that moment that it occurred to me to step on the brake. Miraculously, there was no vehicle in sight on either side of the road. The damage was visible – a slashed tire and a bumper that clearly needed replacing. I sat quietly, shaking like a leaf in the harmattan wind. My fiancé was as calm as a lake. He asked me to switch sides with him so he could move the car. I moved over to the passenger side while he walked over to the driver’s side. By then, a small crowd had gathered and everyone was talking – all at the same time. Those who claimed to have seen the accident were recounting what happened. The ‘experts’ – I bet none of whom had any experience in driving – were giving me pointers on what I should or shouldn’t have done. You for don mass the brake. You for don make so… their incessant chatter was doing nothing for my emotional state. I needed to get out of there. With the help of about 6-8 guys, the vehicle was toted out of the gutter and put back on the road. Luckily there was a garage a few metres away where we changed the tire and patched up the bumper. About an hour later, we sped out of the scene.
After that incident, I was convinced I could never drive again. I was deeply afraid, emotionally scarred. The incident, like a scene from a horror movie, played over and over in my mind. What if I hadn’t stepped on the brake at the last minute? What if…? Subsequently, it dampened my desire and enthusiasm for driving and I avoided the car like it was the plague until about a year later (February 2016) when I enrolled at a driving school. My husband basically forced me to go partly because I had developed some irrational fear (is fear ever rational?) of driving and he was worried that the longer I stayed away from driving, the more difficult it would be to start over again. I obliged but my mind was blank because someway, somehow I couldn’t seem to remember anything from my previous driving. FEAR had created a stronghold in my mind and I was afraid of hitting something or someone. Again.
P.S – Click here to read the rest of the story: https://godlovesordinarywomen.org/2017/07/15/chronicles-of-a-once-cowering-driver-part-2/
Daughter of the King