Thursday, March 31, 2011

Directing Traffic in Kathmandu

Yesterday's post may have helped you to figure out how to purchase a car in Kathmandu, but god help you if you decide to drive it on the streets here. In a city with rolling blackouts that can leave citizens without power for up to 14 hours a day, streetlights aren't the best solution for directing the snarled, throbbing traffic mob. Yet, some intersections are so choked as to need some semblance of order in the chaos. This is where traffic directors come in.

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It's amazing what power and respect some white gloves and a whistle can bestow. With the wave of an arm or even a narrowing of the eyes, these men and women of Kathmandu tame the masses. At their whim, your commute can be halved or doubled depending on whether they deign to allow your lane passage or opt to leave you idling in agony (especially acute when caught on the Bagmati Bridge).

Traffic directors come in all varieties, though. Some will kindly usher you across a busy intersection if you look clueless enough to pose a risk to yourself and others. We've heard there are even rogue directors, lay men and women who, fed up with the madness at a given intersection, will take it upon themselves to guide their fellow citizens, free of charge.

I like that as a metaphor for life in this city. For a multitude of reasons ranging from understandable to absurd, we Kathmandu residents experience frequent disruptions to certain "necessities" of life (water, electricity, traffic direction). When presented with one of these wrinkles, you sometimes learn that what once seemed essential is less necessary than you originally thought. Other times, you have to improvise solutions on the spot. So go ahead and figure it out for yourself -- there won't always be someone else out there directing traffic for you.

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