Saturday, October 31, 2015

Left is Right?

Many of you know that I've always been interested in cars, motorcycles, bicycles, etc. There is something about motion that appeals to me—I love being in control of a wheeled vehicle. Unfortunately, I've had to give up on that major interest for the next couple of years.

One of the rules of the Peace Corps is that we are not allowed to drive a car while we are here—after all, they drive on the opposite side of the roadway (in other words, the left side is the “right” side), which can be very disconcerting at first. Needless to say, riding a motorcycle is also forbidden. Heck, we can't even ride a bicycle in Dominica unless we ride with a bicycle helmet—which absolutely NO ONE wears down here (plus the steep hills here and the narrow roads take the fun out of bicycling). Violating these vehicular rules will result in getting banished from the country.

I suppose this rule makes sense, for safety reasons as well as because we are supposed to be living in the same manner (and on a similar budget) as the residents of the village we serve, and very few villagers own their own cars. Even if you could afford the high cost of buying one of the cars that are imported here, there are ongoing maintenance costs (exacerbated by the salt air), insurance, taxes, etc. Thus, nearly everyone relies on public transport, which consists of a variety of privately owned vans that run folks back and forth. Often they are filled to maximum capacity.

I referred to them as “vans” in the paragraph above, but that would be the word that Americans use to refer to these box-shaped vehicles. I'm learning that the preferred term to use down here is “bus” (or perhaps even a “transport”). Note that nearly every one of them is a “cab forward” design (where the front doors open ahead of the front wheels) that you can't get any longer in the USA because that design can't pass the safety tests in head-on crashes.

One reason why I shouldn't call them a van is because the term “van” is what some (but certainly not all) Dominicans use to refer to what Americans would call a pick-up truck. I think this variation in terms is used more by older Dominicans and those less influenced by the onslaught of American television. Thus, if you are hauling some dirt, you might shovel it into the open bed on the back of your van (which sounds very strange to me). Also, any SUV is referred to as a Jeep, even if the manufacturer is not Jeep. In other words, small Suzuki SUVs are common down here, but they are called “Jeeps” (or perhaps a “Suzuki Jeep”).

It gets even more confusing—don't call what Americans would refer to as a dump truck by that name down here. Dominicans would call a big truck with a tilting box on the back a dumper, not a dump truck. The term dump truck is reserved for describing what we would call a trash truck. To them, it makes sense to call a trash truck a dump truck because it picks up a trash dumpster and dumps it in the back. Dump trucks, dumpers, and dumpsters can get very confusing. Oh well—at least a car is still called a car down here.

They have a lot of vehicles down here that we don't see at home. If I were to have a car down here, I like the unique roofline and other design elements on the Nissan March. However, if I could have a vehicle here, I'd probably be tempted to forego the expense of a car and just ride a motorcycle. Like West Virginia, this place has lots of twisty, curvy, mountain roads that would be a blast on two wheels (unlike West Virginia, they never have to drive such roads in the winter time—I could ride a motorcycle year round!).

The roofline is a bit reminiscent of a VW bug, but it has its own distinctive look.
I've also been interested in a few of the gas stations I have seen here. The largest brand is “Rubis,” and they employ neatly dressed pump attendants to fill your tank. Their stations are pretty similar to what we have at home (except for the attendants). There is also a brand called “NP,” and I noticed one of their stations has its pumps on a circular island. It appears that there were originally four pumps around the circle, but one of them was removed. From what I have witnessed, it seems hard enough getting three vehicles into place around the circle, so I'd imagine four pumps created even more chaos.
There is usually some maneuvering involved to get in and out of this unusual station.
Finally, in the capital of Roseau, the gasoline brand “West Indies” has built a small station at the narrow angle of a “V” where two streets separate. Vehicles pull up along either street to fill up. These pumps have the longest hoses I've ever seen in order to be able to stretch to either side of vehicles on both adjacent streets.
This was an inventive use for a triangular wedge of downtown property.
I'm learning a lot about how they do things here in Dominica. I just hope that I can remember how to drive once I get back in the USA!

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