Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Perils of Night Driving

Yesterday a friend who is back in the U.S. told me he was planning to drive about 5 hours from his house to visit his parents.  Then he added that he would be departing after work.

“After work?!  You can’t leave after work, you need to leave earlier.  You can’t drive at night!,” I insisted.

After a brief lull in the conversation because he was confused at my reaction, and I was confused by his failure to comprehend my objection, I realized this was one of those situations in which a cultural or environmental difference precluded understanding.

When I lived back in the U.S., I wouldn’t think twice about driving at night.  In fact I did it many times, even when travelling long distances or cross-country for a move.  However, here in Africa you DO NOT drive at night.  In the heart of the cities it isn’t too bad, but you would never drive in the outskirts of town, and absolutely never on rural roads in between towns and cities.

For the most part our major roads are paved.  But not always.  Even if they are paved they are normally only one lane going in each direction.  These are our HIGHWAYS.  I once told someone here that I-5 in Los Angeles is 12 lanes across.  He did not believe me.  However, many of our major roads are not tarred.  Dirt roads create an even larger challenge, particularly when the rainy season arrives.

But regardless of whether a road is dirt or tarred you DO NOT drive at night.  For one, there are no streetlights illuminating the path.  You depend on the moon and the stars for that.  And there is no other traffic on the road as no one else is foolish enough to drive at night.  The problem is the animals.  Despite there being animal crossing/warning signs all over the place here, the animals do not obey them.  They simply have not learned to cross at the animal crossings.  Instead you will be driving down the road and all of a sudden you see this:
That’s not too bad during the daytime, because you normally see them coming.  But you need to be able to SEE them.  The interesting thing that I’ve learned here is that most animals are completely silent most of the time.  In that picture above there were easily 40 elephants that crossed that road.  They did not make a single sound. 

But at night it’s different because, like normal, you don’t hear them, but it is very difficult to see them as well.  They sneak up on you and all of a sudden they are on top of you.  Here is a picture of an elephant on the side of the road.  Elephants are typically herd elephants, but we only saw this one.  That means he was either kicked out of the herd, or we didn’t see his 20+ relatives due to the dark:
For everyone back home, I hope you are enjoying your nights out on the town.  As for all of us here, we have a pretty strict curfew which typically begins at dusk.


  1. One of the complications is that elephant eyes have no tapetum which causes most night animals' eyes to shine. Our friends there said about the only way to see an elephant on the road at night is when they block out the lights from an on-coming vehicle. Yep, best stay home after dark.

    1. I had to Google tapetum, but now I know what it is! Thanks Phil.

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