Saturday, October 1, 2011

The other side

Ever since getting to South Africa I've been trying not to get run over. It's difficult! You see, they drive on the wrong side of the road here. When I want to cross the street, I look left - bad news, car coming from the right!

Yesterday, I wanted to buy a bike,  so I decided to borrow my friend Chris's car and drive up to Cape Town. After lunch, he handed me the keys and said "Let's take it for a spin around the block". I hadn't driven in over a month anyways, and only properly mastered a stick shift this past summer, so having the gear shift on my left hand side sent me into a state of befuddlement and confusion. Nonetheless I managed to pull the car out of the parking lot - thankfully the gears are arranged in the same way (reverse is to the top right, and 5th gear is to the top right), and so are the pedals.

Still I managed to stall the engine about five times while trying to start the car at one of those horrible uphill traffic lights that I've come to hate with a vengeance ever since I left the land of liberty and automatic cars. After 3 periods of red Chris realized that I'd had the car in 3rd gear the whole time, and after shifting down everything suddenly worked... Not very encouraging for my trip into the city!

Enter the stage: my Scottish roommate. I informed her that we were driving into town, and that she had to sit in the passenger seat to make sure I didn't hit anything on the left side, and to yell at me if I should drift into the wrong lane. And with almost superhuman calm she navigated me to a shopping center, then to some suburb of Cape Town, and finally back to AIMS. A few times she did have to yell, mostly on right turns when I was about to pull into a lane of oncoming traffic. And once or twice I could hear her inhaling sharply when I was getting a bit too close to the cars parked on the side of the road...

On our way back, we got lost because the navi device ran out of battery, and found ourselves on some small road in the middle of nowhere - luckily we were able to use Table Mountain as a landmark to regain orientation. We even caught a beautiful view of the sun setting over it!

And in the end I dropped the car unscathed at our apartment building, and one of our workmates cooked us a traditional fermented maize meal dish from Ghana called Banku. It was really good, slightly sourdough-like in taste, and reminded me that I should start up some fermentation in Muizenberg.

(I didn't buy the bike in the end. It was too big for me. Maybe this increases my chances of surviving my year of left-hand traffic.)

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