I read an article the other day which began like this : "When you’re driving, everybody else on the road is an idiot and it’s your job to watch out".
In Mayotte, driving is more than just a daily occurrence aiming to get a person from point A to point B.
It's a full-on, head-to-head, protect-your-teeth rugby match.
Everybody else (who shall be termed from now on "the idiots") isn't necessarily aggressive. They don't particularly want to push you off the road or to smash into you, but they will do if you behave like an idiot yourself. Which you necessarily will do, because if they're idiots to you, you're an idiot to them.
What they do want is to get from point A to point B in as direct a fashion as possible. Please note, nobody said anything about speed. Idiots don't drive quickly here. The speed limit in towns and villages is 50km/h, enough to have the odd interesting accident but not enough to actually break much. Nope, it's not speed. Idiots want directness. The shortest route. The crow's flight, as it were. Idiots don't want chicanes, turns and roundabouts in their way. Idiots cut corners. Idiots ignore signposts and priorities. Idiots couldn't care less about priorité à droite.
They don't think much of other idiots either. Nor water puddles and their associated pedestrian idiots who for some reason shout loudly when splashed with red muddy water. Not even animals. I saw a crab violently squished under an idiot's wheels yesterday, just because that particular crab had felt like crossing the road - a small back road, not even one of the major arteries - at that particular time. There wasn't even enough left of it for dinner.
As it happens, I stop for crabs. I stop for zebus and goats as well. I stop for pedestrians, who then feel that that they might actually not want to cross the road after all and stand dithering about a third of the way in. Either that, or they cross the road slowly, head held high and nose in the air, without as much as a backward glance for the friendly automobilist. I stop for my pupils, even though I wouldn't mind not seeing a few of them in lessons on Monday. I spend more time stopping than starting, actually.
Idiots don't stop. Except on one occasion: when they're just in front of you. Then, they stop very regularly. In the middle of the road. They didn't bother with the highway code lesson on indicators, so they don't use those. They're not quite sure what the little lever is actually for, and it gets in the way of the steering wheel half the time, so they use it to hang their trinkets or house keys on. And as the lights don't work on some cars, it can be quite difficult to tell what they're doing. Never mind what they're going to do.
Idiots turn quite a bit as well. Still no indicators. And not necessarily on roads that you can see and just about anticipate. They'll suddenly stop and turn into the middle of nowhere, a vaguely car-sized space between two trees in the middle of the mountain somewhere. You've never seen that turning before and will never find it again. People are always coming out of nowhere on foot, so idiots stop and pick them up. Idiots also enjoy stopping on turnings. You can see the turning and you would quite like to take it as it is your road home. The idiot in front of you, however, doesn't fret about that kind of thing. The idiot in front of you treats the turning as he would a parking slot at the side of the road, the sort of slot that is conventionally used to change drivers, feed the kids and answer mobile phones without bothering other idiots or breaking any rules. The sort of slot buses use to stop. Except that this one is a turning. That doesn't matter to the idiot. The idiot believes this is his slot. Therefore, if another idiot should be so bold as to arrive from the direction of the turning and to wish for acceptance onto the main road, that idiot should be punished for his thoughtless behaviour by enforced blindness. Idiot 1 wishes to turn out of the side road onto the main road. Idiot 2, having arrived at the same time and being utterly outraged by Idiot 1 finding himself in Idiot 2's space, pulls up perpendicularly to Idiot 1, blocking his view of the road and forcing him to behave even more idiotically than usual because he cannot see.
Pedestrians are responsible for quite a bit of idiotic behaviour. Pedestrians don't like being pedestrians, you see. Pedestrians lack in idiocy and would like to be a part of the general idiotic frenzy. Pedestrians are lazy and want to be driven by idiots. Pedestrians spend their pedestrian time holding their hands out by the side of the road. Often, pedestrians are tired so pedestrians sit down. They are then natestrians. Natestrians are the worst type of unmotorized idiot. They want to be picked up and driven, but they are sitting or lying down with their back to the road. They are difficult to see, and they don't seem that interested in the passing idiots, so you're never quite sure what to do. I tend to drive past. Idiots stop. Suddenly. Without indicating. Without stop lights. Wherever they happen to be, preferably if they happen to be in the middle of the road. They pick up the natestrians, which in itself can take quite a bit of time. Meanwhile, you, of course, are behind the idiot. You do not want to wait for the natestrian to lift up his or her august derrière, but you would like to go home. So you decide to overtake the idiot.
Idiots do not like being overtaken. They will happily stop in the middle of the road to load or unload unmotorized idiots, but they remain masters of the bitumen. If you threaten to overtake one, he will flash his lights at you and suddenly discover his indicator. Which he will activate, therefore tricking you into believing that he is about to leave. By the time you understand this deceptively clever ploy, the unmotorized idiots have either materialized as pedestrians or embarked upon their next voyage of idiocy, and the idiot is ready to depart once more.
Because sometimes, idiots do use their indicators. But they're not quite sure what to do with them once they're on and clicking, so they decide symmetry is the key and indicate the other way for a bit. This is all on a perfectly straight road going straight forward, you understand. And as always, you are right behind the idiot who is playing with his indicator, ten clicks left, ten clicks right. Then, when the idiot does decide to turn, there are two possibilities. Either he will turn left while indicating right (or vice versa), or he will switch off his indicator altogether and turn without warning.
Idiots love parking. They love it so much that they will happily spend all afternoon doing it. In the same spot, naturally. Too much variety confounds the senses. They will go back and forth, from side to side, gaily brum-brumming their engines and playing with the strange gear on the side called "Reverse". They are not very good at "Reverse". Idiots are generally wonderful music-lovers, and they love making music with their cars. There are all the different engine noises, for a start. Then, of course, there is the music the idiot can make when he has a playground of not one but two or even three vehicles. All of which will come away from the encounter with a series of unprecedented scrapes and scratches, which make things much more interesting for all concerned. And of course, all of this parking laugh is in the middle of the road, on a hill, with other idiots coming both ways. You are a perfectly placed spectator for this, as you are just behind the idiot who is playing "Park".
Several idiots also love parking, but find the process of shoehorning a motorized vehicle into a space twice its size much too harrowing. So they have invented a new rule for parking: if the car is stopped, the handbrake is on and the key is not in the hole, the car is parked. Roadsides are colourfully decorated with cars of all shapes and sizes. My personal favourites are the roundabouts, which are adorned with as many cars as idiotically possible. The average four-exit roundabout can house up to fifteen cars if you know how to park them. Now, I too have learnt to park on roundabouts.
A different breed of idiot walks their car. They don't believe in speed and they don't have anywhere to go. So they get in their cars and drive. Very slowly. Nowhere. When they have navigated to the edge of their village at a record speed of 15km/h, they become afraid of the deep dark beyond and turn around. In the middle of the road. With no indicators. Much more fun.
I am surrounded by idiots. And I am an idiot too. I can live with that.