I have been itching to drive lately. Last week, it had been 6 weeks since I last drove a car (just before Lindsey and I left the States). Lindsey and I do not have a vehicle right now and have been fortunate enough to get numerous rides from new friends and contacts here in Botswana. We have mostly been getting around by foot, but have been lucky to get rides from others when we need rather than calling/hailing a taxi. L & I are getting used to being passengers and are slowly adjusting to cars driving on the left side of the road. Because people drive on the left over here (as they do in much of the world), the driver’s side is on the right side of the car, something Americans are not used to. Often I have been walking back to someone’s car with them (maybe from a store), and I will walk to the front right side of the car expecting to sit beside the driver. Sometimes I get asked, “Do you want to drive?,” and I get very excited! Then, all of a sudden, I realize the person is not offering to let me drive but is instead making fun of me because I unintentionally went to the driver’s side expecting to be a passenger. This can be awkward, especially if you continually make this mistake, ESPECIALLY with the same people. I am really good at being awkward over here (if you know me, this is also true in the States).
Earlier this week, a new friend, once again asked me if I wanted to drive as we approached his vehicle. I paused for a second. I looked left, looked right, and pondered if this was another joke. I had actually walked to the left side of the car this time and was in fact ready to get in the correct door for a passenger. I realized that I was actually being offered the opportunity to drive!
My first time driving in Botswana was exciting, but not too intense. I knew to drive on the LEFT and beyond that basically follow all the same road rules as I am used to while driving. We were getting on the highway, so I did not have to think about any tricky turns or complex city traffic. It was a weird feeling driving up to 120 km/hour (about 75mph), on the left side of the road. I did get to make a couple of slow, gradual turns into a nearby town (I don’t know if I’ll ever fully get used to a far right turn at an intersection onto the left side of the road). I joked with my friend that everyone was driving in the wrong lane and not the right one (pun intended).
Although this was just a joke and my friend (who is also American), got it and laughed, I started to think about what I had just said. Unintentionally, and even unconsciously on many levels, I have probably taken this mindset in a few encounters and situations.
Someone recently gave some advice to Lindsey and I about trying not look at things with our “American eyes”. While trying to be a culturally sensitive, globally-aware, and open-minded person, I have failed in several situations by being overly critical of something with my “American eyes.” (I’m going to call this having a “wrong lane” mindset). I have thought to myself and probably even said in some situations things like: “Why is there not more variety here? Why don’t they have this? Why did this person show up late (or not at all)? Why doesn’t this person understand me? Why did the power (electricity) go out again? Why is this church service so long? Why is everyone in the wrong lane?”…you get the idea. These are the thoughts of someone who is asking the wrong questions, and has a “wrong lane” mindset. It turns out, I am the person in the wrong lane with my mentality at times. I am also someone who is from a “cold-climate” culture who is unfamiliar with a “warm-climate” culture. Things work and function over here just fine, even if it is different than what I am used to. When I see or experience something in a different culture that I am not used to, rather than asking, “Why do they do this and not this?” I should just embrace the difference. Something being different does not make it right or wrong. I’m sure I will continue to make the mistake of a having a “wrong lane” mentality at times, but being more aware and intentional about my thinking, will likely aid me in adapting to the left lane. Hopefully I will learn to be less awkward in my thinking even if my general awkwardness is unavoidable 🙂
“We are all a bit ethnocentric, thinking our way is a bit superior to someone else’s. If we can get beyond that, we’ll find we can begin to learn, respect, and enjoy the differences. Soon, what seems foreign will become familiar. And we’ll find we have much in common.” –Sarah Lanier, “Foreign to Familiar”