We have taken to calling the
traffic – an endless stream of bumper to bumper chaos accompanied by a cacophony of horns (which at times passes for the daily commute), the Mongolian horse race. Drivers wield models of vehicles unknown in Ulaanbaatar North America like mounts out on the steppe, with little attention paid to mundane things like traffic lights, lanes, or pedestrians.
Don’t get me wrong, they are very skilled drivers who are able to manoeuvre at speed only centimetres… even millimetres, from each other. If you weren’t skilled, not to mention rather brash, survival would be doubtful. This race is only for the stout of heart. A credit union director explained that if you get the head of your horse in front of another during a race, the rider can do what he wants… and that is how they drive! To complete the picture, her board chair wanted me to understand that pedestrians are really just pasture. Pasture?! I thought I was getting lost in translation, but now we know better.
Being a pedestrian in UB is unlike anything I have ever experienced, including the bustle of
. Martin – our master of the one-liners summed it up perfectly… “high-stakes frogger.” Imagine crossing three or four lanes of traffic one at a time by trying to gain a tenuous purchase on each successive thinly marked lane divider. Oh and did I mention that the racers don’t get the idea of lanes? So now you’re standing on the first “line”, cars whizzing by front and back as your nerve slowly wanes - looking… hoping for an opening. And don’t follow the teenagers as they play UB frogger, it will only leave you stranded. They are quick and bold, with finely honed reflexes. And apparently we foreigners are just pasture. Kampala
Of course what is a race without prizes? Here it is great food and fellowship; cashmere; articles of felt, camel and wool made by small producer co-ops; silver bowls; and other treasures. So saddle up and let’s ride!