One of the most difficult tasks we have on our mission is when we have to drive at night. It doesn’t happen too often, but often enough to write about! Whether it is going to see sick missionaries, or meetings that run too late, or errands we are sent on, occasionally we are out driving after dark. that might not seem to be a big deal for most people in most places, but here in the Congo you take your life, and others’ lives, in your hands!
First of all, there are NO street lights, anywhere, at any time. And it always seems to be pitch black–no moon or other lights of any kind to aid one in seeing. Then add to that the amount of people walking the street (few people have cars, so most walk the streets), and, of course, the transports! Most vehicles on the road are either transports (small vans used to taxi people around), or cars used as taxis. There are few traffic lights that work, and even when working, few people obey them… so it is a 24/7 defensive driving course!
Finally, and most importantly, it is a country of black people. Black people on the street at night CANNOT be seen! When they dart across the street, or are simply walking by the side of the road, the only way you can see them is if they happen to have on something reflective. On one occasion the only way we saw a person, and didn’t hit them, is because we saw white shoes walking across the road! He was a black man wearing black clothing, and you could not see him, even in your headlights, if it was not for his new, white, tennis shoes he was wearing that reflected the light. It was such a weird sight: just watching ‘shoes’ cross the road, as if they had no owner!
Most of the time I insist that someone, usually Terri, come with me when driving at night, just to be another set of eyes to watch for people, holes in the road, transports flying here and there…
Many streets have very deep concrete gutters that carry water during the rainy season. When crossing streets, these gutters are covered with concrete tiles so cars can drive over them. They are never strong enough, so are often broken or missing. Without care, you can drive into a hole that will eat your entire tire (we have seen it happen more than once!). In one case, the driver paid several men to ‘lift’ his car out of the hole–quite amazing.
Anyway, we just got back from one of our night trips. We were taking a new missionary to his new apartment…and got lost! I had only been there a couple of times in the daytime, and lost track of the landmarks at night. Fortunately, after circling around a little bit we found our way again and got him to his new home. But it is quite nerve racking!