Living in Africa requires some special skills when navigating the metropolis of Lubumbashi, a city of 1.2 million. As with many metropolitan areas, infrastructure has not kept up with growth, particularly in the areas of traffic, electricity and water. The number of cars has increased dramatically, but so has the number of pedestrians!
Without proper pathways and traffic signals, pedestrians must navigate between partial sidewalks, bridges across open sewers, and narrow dirt pathways along the side of the paved streets. There becomes a constant “up and down” and “side to side” rhythm to this navigation. Cars and taxis back out suddenly from parking spaces. Car doors open from parallel-parked cars. Several people approach from the opposite direction, and one must make an immediate decision whether to move or hold ground. At the same time, you are climbing up and down steps, hopping across broken pavement or potholes, and trying to cross the road.
Crossing the streets is entirely different adventure. Large intersections have cars approaching from 4 directions without traffic signals or stop signs. I have seen a few red stoplights, however they seem to be ignored; cars approach the intersection slowly and proceed on their way! With drivers watching the approaching cars, pedestrians are on their own, and there appears to be no rule that they have any right-of-way- and certainly no assistance with traffic signals. One can easily find themselves straddling the middle of the street after passing behind a moving vehicle, only to find that approaching traffic from the other direction is moving quickly and without pause! This calls for a mad dash to the other side as soon as the line of cars slows or comes to a stop. Once you have reached the opposite side of the street, the “up and down” and “side to side” rhythm resumes.
One cannot leave this subject without also discussing the use of the car horn. Horns seem to have replaced the need for traffic and warning signs. Horns are used to notify pedestrians that they are too close to the road or are crossing in the way. They are used prod backing cars to move, and to rush taxis which are pulling over to the side. Cars use horns to notify motorcycles that they are approaching from behind, while the motorcycles weave in and out of the traffic lanes. And even on occasion, the horn is used to move a stray animal rom the roadway.
Can you envision the symphony? “Up and down” and “side to side”, dodge- honk, honk. Dash agin, up and down, side to side, honk, honk. Look both ways, in and out, honk, honk, honk. Yes this is also a rhythm of Africa.
I have not yet mastered the symphony, but after a few days in the city, I have become acquainted with the rhythm.