When my Grandfather passed away, Josh and I inherited his bright red Jeep Wrangler. That Jeep is how I learned to drive a stick shift. I used the term “learned” loosely. The few lessons I had from Pa pretty much involved him telling me to “push the gas and let go of the clutch” and then me driving him to the bank while stalling out a dozen times. Pa laughed at me the whole time. Teaching maybe wasn’t his strongest skill.
By the time we got the Jeep, all my lessons were out the window and Josh was now reliable for refreshing my memory. Josh has driven a stick shift as long as he’s been driving. Learning this skill from that kind of person is like learning algebra from a math genius. They don’t give you the important details a newbie needs. Josh took me to a hill in a church parking lot and told me to go for it. I felt like Pa was probably laughing from heaven somewhere.
After avoiding Gallatin Road’s stoplights on hills and traffic on all interstates (which often meant driving circles around Nashville) for a few months, I grew a pair and got it down. When we applied for the gig with the Salvants here, one of the requirements was knowing how to drive a stick shift. I actually cried a little when I read that because it felt like Pa had been helping me get ready for my future without me knowing it.
Fast forward to Haiti. So, traffic in Haiti is absolutely nuts. I can’t really explain it. There is a lot to pay attention to at once. Pedestrians, stray dogs, goats, motorcycles (who have NO fear of dying apparently), dump trucks, tap taps…you name it and it’s probably on the Haitian roads somewhere. Plus the roads are in really bad shape. Then there’s the general atmosphere of driving. Aggressive might be a good term to use, or fearless, or reckless, or everything-Allison-is-not. Add to this a lack of good depth perception and not having driven for six months (because of being on the boat) and you have a recipe for disaster.
Let’s not forget that I have a really great imagination for an adult. This comes in handy when working with kids or writing stories and is a thorn in my side when it comes to anything risky. I automatically create a million ways everything can fall apart.
Josh is good at taking risks, weighing them well and being wise. He’s also really…uh…good at driving with some degree of attitude. He won’t mind squeezing into traffic, honking his horn, and pulling in front of people. For me, it goes against EVERYTHING I was taught about driving. The only thing that makes me really angry in the car is when I let someone go and they don’t give me the “thank you” wave.
The Salvants let us use their vehicle and I can’t tell you how AWESOME that is. It gives us freedom here. Freedom that I haven’t really taken advantage of because driving here seems..well..death defying. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I’m pretty sure you can never go faster than 30mph here because of traffic. I’m more scared of scraping up the Salvant’s vehicle.
But, the day came and I knew I needed to man up. Six weeks and I hadn’t even tried driving here. Pa was probably up in heaven feeling really disappointed and feeling like I’d wasted all those months with the jeep. Can’t disappoint Pa.
April and I had taken some of the New Hope girls to a weekly club they have that’s not too far away and I decided to try and drive them home. Pretty sure the girls were a little hesitant. Things started out well, dodging pot holes was okay. Then April said, “I’m going to send you down a little short cut. It doesn’t seem like a road and it sort of feels like you’re driving through a market, but I promise it’s a road.” Cue Pa’s heavenly laughter.
I was nervous, but April helped guide me through what seemed like a bustling outdoor grocery store. Next thing we know, I’m cruising along and there’s a police stop. Now, the other thing I’ve slacked on since being here is keeping up my Creole lessons – so this should go swimmingly. Between driving skills and Creole skills I thought I’d either accidentally run over him or completely offend and weird him out with my concentrated stares while I tried to decipher a word. First things first, I didn’t run over him. And God was shining down on me, because this cop spoke English. He complimented my name and waved me on. After that, it was a straight shot home. Besides infuriating drivers behind me by creeping over potholes while continuously apologizing to everyone in the car, we made it home scot-free.
I know that Pa would get a huge kick out of his little granddaughter driving a stick shift around Haiti.