Monday, April 11, 2011

Driving Miss Emily

Well, I hit another milestone last week. I drove for the first time by myself in Freetown! Go me! Now, for some of you big city folk this may not seem like a big deal (driving alone in a big city) but this was pretty monumental for me and I'll tell you why. First, the streets in Freetown are crazy!! It's a little intimidating trying to drive with all the cars, motorcycles and people running around with little semblance of "lanes" or "right of way" or "traffic laws." I keep wondering what I'm going to say to the nice officer who pulls me over for passing on a double yellow line on the right side when I come home. "I'm very sorry sir but I find these silly rules completely ridiculous. I've just come from a place where there are no rules and it seems to work out just fine!" Think it will fly?

Second, I might have one of the worse sense of directions known to man. One time I got lost for 45 min looking for the bank in my hometown.....of 50,000 which I'd lived for 5 years at that time. I finally gave up and went home because I was running out of gas. But it was those darn one way streets! I kept seeing my bank but then I could never go the right way to get to the bank! Anyway, I haven't quite lived that one down again.

Finally, I love my independence. My sister and I drove across the country by ourselves when I was 19. But don't worry, we had a cell phone. Until we realized we didn't get service outside of Portland. Oops. Anyway, my independence has been limited since moving here because I pretty much know where nothing is and in case I do get in an accident with another vehicle...or motorcycle...or person, it's a good idea to have a Sierra Leonean with you in the car to help with damage control. I understand and agree with the logic completely....but there was still something very liberating about going out on my own!

My adventure began the night before when my friend Chad got out the Freetown map and drew specific directions of where I was to go. I've driven to the edge of Freetown but for this trip I would be entering Freetown from a different direction in which I'd never driven before. It was the really congested route that we generally try to avoid for accident prevention and time wasting avoidance.

In the morning, armed with my map and the BBC on the radio, I headed into town. My first stop was at the edge of town to finalize the transport for our upcoming medical team. After that meeting, my map and directions told me to turn left and head into town. This is where I was in new territory. But when I came out of the office and started to turn left, I realized they were repainting (by hand) the white lines on the road and were completely redirecting traffic. But wait! I only know the specific route that Chad drew on the map! I do not have a contingency plan!! I wasn't even confident I knew where I was going with the map and repeated directions. I definitely didn't know another route. After contemplating what to do for a few minutes and not wanting to have to call Chad and tell him I was lost...before I even began, I proceeded to go about 30 minutes out of the way to enter town the way I knew how. :) Maybe not my smartest move but....mission still accomplished!

So I entered town and set off to run my errands. As I was looking at the places Chad had marked on the map, I realized I'd forgotten which places were which. So I just went to the first stop and low and behold...the ministry building. Score!

I ran the errands I needed to run without incident. And best of all, I got to wander around a little bit so I have a little better feel for the town. I even took a shortcut once and cut off probably 20 minutes! I never did find the place I was going to stop and eat but got some crackers at the grocery store and figured that totally counts as lunch. Success!

As I was leaving town, I was waved to the side by a police officer. I was very curious as to why she was pulling me over. She checked my insurance sticker and asked to see my license. When I showed it to her she waved me on. But I was a little irritated at what I felt might have been some racial profiling. So even though she had moved on to talk to someone else I got her attention again and asked what I had done wrong. She said nothing. So I asked why I had been pulled over if I didn't do anything wrong. At this point another officer joined the conversation and some of my bravado left. I was afraid I might have overstepped a little and probably should have just kept my big mouth quiet and left. Luckily it didn't escalate and I left on my way.....home safe and sound.

So that's it. I'm official now. :) After passing 4 accidents in the span of a few miles I am still nervous about driving....mostly about keeping out of the way of other crazy drivers. But I am so thankful for this little piece of independence!

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