One of the rules of the Peace Corps is that volunteers are not allowed to drive a car (except on official leave) during their two years of service. This rule mainly comes from the mandate that Peace Corps Volunteers live at the level of the people they serve; we don’t want to be perceived as the rich Americans who have come to save the world. But it partially comes from the reality that in the past, death and injuries from auto accidents were significant for PCVs. In Botswana, death in auto accidents caused by drunk drivers is high. Also at night, there can be cows, donkeys and all sorts of animals crossing the road that are nearly impossible to see until you are right on top of them. Hit a cow and you will likely kill the cow, but may also kill yourself.
So life without a car, what is it like? In a way it is incredibly freeing. I don’t have to worry about figuring out where filling stations are located. They are few and far between, not on every street corner like in the US, so one has to plan ahead when driving. You can’t allow the tank to get close to empty before buying gas. I don’t have to get the oil changed or rotate and replace tires. I don’t have to pay for car insurance. I don’t have to get an annual emissions inspection. I don’t have to figure out who to call if my car breaks down on the road between Mochudi and Francistown. I am free of the hassles and headaches that come with owning a car.
Getting around in Mochudi is easy. I can walk most anywhere I want to go. The shops are a 10-15 minute walk away. Need bread, just take a quick hike to Spar, the local grocery store. Get your exercise and your food. I walk to work each morning and get the blood going to my brain and have a little planning time. If I’m carrying a big load or going somewhere over 3-4 miles, more than an hour walk, I can always hop on a combi, pay 3.30 pula (about 50 cents), and get there relatively easily.
The only time I really miss a car is if I have a big purchase to make in Gaborone, the capitol city, about 35 kilometers away. No driving to the closest parking spot at the mall, buying that bookshelf and loading it in the trunk. Nope. You have to take a bus to town, a one hour ride. Take a combi to the mall to make the purchase. Then hire a “special” cab back to the bus rank, if you don’t want to maneuver carrying a large purchase on the combi, and get on the bus headed home after you have manipulated squeezing the package between seats or overhead. I think I’m through making big purchases for the next two years, so no worries for me without a car.
And here in Botswana, they drive on the left, have lots of round-abouts that make driving bumper cars look organized, and most of the combi and bus drivers have gone to the Dale Earnhardt school of competitive driving. Riding in a vehicle is interesting enough. I’m good without a car for two years.