Sunday, December 24, 2006


The morning commute in Kheltubani.

If someday I don’t return to the United States it could be because I’ve taken to the mountains, shunning modernity to eke out a living as a goat herder or moon shiner. However, it is far more likely the cause would be my untimely demise thanks to some kind of traffic accident. Georgian roads are among the most dangerous in the world.

Here in Georgia donkey carts share the highway with huge, lumbering, soviet-era trucks. Speeding Mercedes Benz’s whiz past decrepit sedans filled to the windows with cabbage, and farm animals roam the streets as if it belongs to them. Cows often sleep in the road on blind corners. Pigs cross thee street with no consideration for oncoming traffic and stray dogs hurl themselves into passing cars with regularity. Just the other day I watched a chicken fail in its attempt to cross the road. The people I was in the car with roared with laughter at the site of a bloody and mangled chicken cart-wheeling into the ditch.

I’ve even seen bulls fighting in the middle of street, drivers rushing to their cars to move them before the bulls bash into the sides. This picture displays something we call “cow slalom” and Georgian drivers are highly skilled in the art of swerving through a cattle herd at high rate of speed.

Roads are generally absent of warning signs, medians, passing lanes and often pavement. Two lane roads often have four lanes of traffic. Everyone with a car capable of speeding does so. Oncoming traffic signals to you that they see you by swerving slightly into your lane. At night, you flash your high beams at the oncoming car at the last second to let him know you’re there, even though this temporarily blinds the driver. It is no wonder Georgia is a very Christian nation. I’ve witnessed many a non-believer suddenly praying to God when their bus pulled out to pass on a blind corner only to find a semi barreling down on them.

Drunk driving, while against the law, is about as common as driving to work with a cup of coffee in the states, not that drunk driving there is a rarity. I know a man whose hobby was to get drunk and drive around the village. After a supra, one driver (who consumed 20 glasses of wine) told me not to worry about his driving because he’d eaten a lot of food. It was actually one of the safest rides I’ve had in Georgia, partially because he was concentrating on the road and partly because the road was so rutted with potholes he simply couldn’t get the thing up to speed. Also, he has the alcohol tolerance of an adult rhino and wasn’t even drunk. It was incredible.

I know another man who drove his car, along with his wife and baby son, right into the side of his house after a wine-fueled supra. Everyone was fine, but just hours before he’d insisted on driving a bunch of us home.

When I’m walking around the village, drunk men frequently stop their cars to offer me rides. They become confused when I decline. One day, Jeff and I were walking past a row of taxi drivers, who were sitting on the hoods of their cabs drinking wine. “Americans!!” they shouted. “Come and drink with us!” We made up some meeting we had to go to and slipped away, their slurred and pleading voices fading into the distance.

Now, when hailing a cab, before I negotiate the fare I try to smell my cabbie to tell if he’s been drinking. The same goes for getting on a minibus.

Peace Corps policy forbids us from operating a motor vehicle of any kind. Thus, if I were to offer myself as a designated driver and Peace Corps found out I would be kicked out of the country. Working for the federal government is very interesting.


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