The Streets of Zanzibar

Written by Rachel Ouellette

Rachel is a two-time YCI volunteer who recently completed a two week work project in Zanzibar, Tanzania with the Centre for Social Innovation team. She also worked at the YCI Toronto office as the Volunteer Program Assistant from September to January 2015.

As a 6-year license holder who was born and raised in Montreal, it’s become common knowledge to me that Quebec drivers can be pretty aggressive. We have a certain driving culture which, within this organized system, we drive a little over the speed posted on the speed limit signs, alert other drivers when they are not obeying the established rules of the road, and experience the occasional road rage. And the more time goes on, the more I notice people blatantly disregard proper driving etiquette such as using indicators, turning their headlights on at night, stopping at stop signs and the ever frustrating, driving slower in the passing lanes.

DSCF3222When I arrived in Zanzibar, I quickly noticed how few road signs there were and the lack of street lights. However, despite the absence of what are better known to North Americans as driving regulators, I came to see that drivers had an unspoken order amongst themselves and respected each other. The culture of the streets was astonishingly different; the roads were busy and populated by cars, motocycles, dala dalas, bikes and large masses of people who all seemed to have a mutual understanding of the rules of the road and who respectfully coexisted.

Between the roundabouts and speed bumps, drivers manipulated their vehicles in and around each other to reach their destinations. They carefully maneuvered around the various obstacles such as the crowds of students going to and from school, the merchants and markets that crept onto the roads and the motorcycles and bicycles that constantly wove between vehicles. And all the while doing it right hand drive! On roads of all widths, drivers went at their own speeds and passed others by simply honking and weaving around them. It actually amazed me how much honking I heard. Unlike honking at home where it would normally signify telling someone off, in Zanzibar, honking was to alert someone: “I’m passing you!” or “Watch out!” or “Move over!” in a non-aggressive way. They also had an unspoken etiquette about passing in that they instinctively moved over when someone else was going faster than them. In this way, Tanzanian drivers respect one another and are able to communicate without official lanes, signs or rules.

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This is one of the many things that make Tanzanian culture different than Canadian culture, and these differences are what contribute to an enriching learning experience that can only come alive when travelling abroad.

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