I’m not a good driver. I’m nervous, inexperienced, and I have no sense of direction. That’s why I avoid driving whenever possible. Every time we move to a new country I move by foot, bike, or taxi until I can no longer avoid taking the wheel.
Driving in a foreign country is daunting, especially when it’s busy or the road system isn’t in a good condition. Unfortunately, that’s the case in most countries. I couldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen on foreign roads.
It includes: rows of metal spikes (put there by the Nigerian government to slow traffic), moving cars with doors swinging open (old cars are the norm in Armenia), and 2-lane roads turned into 4-lane roads (totally normal in Uruguay).
Still, there always comes a time when driving myself is unavoidable. When public transport systems are chaotic or non-existent, for example. Also, I feel guilty for making my husband drive all the time (although he says he’d rather drive himself than let me do it—go figure).
MY FIRST DRIVE IN ARMENIA
I’ve lived in Armenia for well over a year and only just last week I gave it a try. The reason: to encourage my American neighbor to start driving. It’s not that I’m ashamed of not driving. Just like Gloria Steinem, I prefer to interact with people when I’m out of the house instead of sitting in a car all by myself. Also, I like to exercise and I think there are more than enough cars on the road already.
But I didn't want my fear of driving to stop my neighbor from driving. So I put my game face on and we drove, convoy-style, to the mall together.
I knew the road I was going to take well: it goes from my home to the nearest mall. The drive could hardly be easier: it requires only three right turns. Even the drive back requires only right turns, except that it involves a tricky little rotunda. Needless to say, I survived.
THE ROAD AHEAD
My next drive is going to be to the embassy. In theory, the drive isn’t much harder than the drive to the mall. It only involves two right turns, and one left turn.
The left turn is a big problem though.
I can't take the left turn without shifting three lanes within a 100-foot stretch. In that stretch, my side-road merges with a three-lane road right in front of traffic lights. You’d think other drivers are slowing down anyway for the traffic lights, and don’t mind letting the merging traffic in, right?
In Armenia, giving way to other cars is like blasphemy. Once they see you coming, Armenian drivers either speed up or aggressively honk at you.
I fail to understand how a population that is so incredibly nice otherwise can be so ungallant when driving. One driver explains it as follows: most Armenians couldn’t afford a car until recently and have no proper training. Lacking experience and training, most don’t know how to respond to difficult traffic situations.
And difficult situations are plentiful on Yerevan’s roads. They include crappy asphalt, lack of signs, hidden exits, and sudden U-turns. And although the cars have improved somewhat in recent years, many of them are still from last century. The classic example is a car called “jigouli” (see picture).
I’m so terrified of the road to the embassy that I’ve mapped several alternative routes already. But one of these days I’m just going to do it. I’m going to conquer the three-lane merge. If you don’t hear from me soon… I probably just haven’t done it yet.