I sweat. I sit up straight. I focus so intently my eyeballs dry out. I scan the 2-foot-high grass, lining each side of the road-with-no-shoulder, for the wildlife-with-no-sense-of-timing. I remember the man we gave a ride to last year after a kudu kamikazied his semi-truck.
Am I on the right side of the road?
I check the engine temperature. I turn off the radio because I think I hear something dragging under the car. I move into the oncoming traffic lane to pass the jalopy going 40 km/h on the 2 lane, 120 km/h road. I think of the near-weekly newspaper headline: Family killed in head-on collision.
Should the tires be wobbling so much?
It begins to rain. I turn on the blinker.
I turn off the blinker, and turn on the wipers.
Am I driving too fast? Is the parking brake still on?
It begins to pour. I turn on the super-speed wipers. I slow down. I peer through the river cascading down the windshield. Suddenly, a warthog darts across the road followed by four wartlets. I brake with as much force as possible without sending the car careening through the bush.
I return to bolt-upright position, eyes wide, and continue on.
Ten minutes later, the rain has stopped, I’m in town and wondering that I make it anywhere at all navigating the most dangerous part of all Namibia: the roads.
First off, whoever’s idea it was to have different countries drive on different sides of the road should be excommunicated from Earth. They can take the person who made different outlets for every continent with them. This was a terribly stupid, not to mention dangerous, idea. Tourism is big in Namibia, and as there are no passenger trains, all of those tourists drive. So, unless those tourists are from the UK, or a country that the UK managed to convince of their left-side driving idea, they are solid contenders for driving on the wrong side of the road and creating havoc.
I’ve done it, and it was rather terrifying. I fumbled frantically with the stick shift, also new to me, trying to reverse and/or get myself out of the path of the oncoming, honking car. (I believe that he felt the honking was necessary to inform me of my mistake that I hadn’t noticed, and to help keep everyone calm.) Then, after acclimation to left-side driving, I returned to the States, and terrified everyone over there. To offset these grievances, I consistently amuse folks in both countries when I attempt to get in on the wrong side of the car, regardless of whether I’m passenger or driver. I do it all the time, to this very day. There’s really no playing it off.
These days, although I have not what one would call “mastered” the stick, or the driving side, I at least appear to be someone who has (until I try to get in on the passenger side again). And so, I earned myself a simple assignment: follow Jay into town in the car as he drives a friend’s car so the friend can pick it up.
Simple; and yet not ten minutes into the expedition, I drive full on into a ditch. Actually three ditches. That sounds like a hard thing to do but, to my credit, the ditches were not always there. See, around here we have these seasonal rivers created by the torrential rains mentioned earlier. The purebred Namibian driver, i.e. Jay, can drive full speed down a dirt road and somehow always know where those rivers have flowed and thus, avoid their subsequent trenches. The falsely confident imported driver, i.e. me, turns a corner by the first neighbor’s house and hits three of them consecutively.
I managed not to flatten the tires but I bent something called the tire rod. This left me with an upside-down steering wheel, even less steering on a car with no power steering, and a constant, horrendous squealing for the next hour into town. No matter how many times I got out of the car to look, I could not see what was causing the squealing. But I did entertain (or worry, I couldn’t tell) the many road construction workers. I waved as if all was well while praying the tires would not explode and that Jay would, one day, trust me again with his car.
Of course, he did, this past Monday, granting me the solo adventure with the dry eyeballs, the downpour, and the wartlets. I made it to my destination and back without breaking anything, hitting anyone, or forgetting the parking brake. Maybe someday soon I’ll be able to do it without the anxiety, too. And without running a circle around the car, looking for the driver’s side.