Thursday, January 7, 2016

Road Rage in East Africa

By Anthony:

I have a confession to make.  After two years of driving all over East Africa, it took 4 full days of driving in one week to bring me to the realization that I have a problem with road rage - not a joke, I'm being serious.  I don't mean I do anything violent to other drivers or yell at them, but sometimes I do lay into my horn and my blood pressure goes up.  Let me describe the situation to all of you.  I'm hoping you will give me some tips on how to think about this and tips to deal with this.  This is the main aspect of life in East Africa that I have not been very flexible about adapting to as a missionary.  The interesting thing is that at the beginning of our time, driving here didn't bother me so much, but it has increasingly bothered me more and more.  Now that I have more experience driving here, and have seen so many accidents and near accidents, I am less patient with horrible drivers.
Let me first explain what makes me angry and what doesn't.  Although it feels a little good to let you know about these frustrations, I'm not writing this post to rant and complain about driving here in East Africa.  I really am seeking your wisdom.  (But if it makes you grateful for the driving conditions in your other countries so much the better!).

These are things that DON'T actually make me angry, even if a few of them are inconvenient.  I just view them as part of life here, and I can adapt even if they are frustrating:
  • Potholes
  • Dirt roads and dust
  • Inside of vehicle getting covered in dust constantly
  • Muddy roads you get stuck in during the rainy season
  • Slow moving traffic in big cities
  • Millions of enormous speed bumps
  • Only 1 lane each way on major roads that should be 2-3 lanes each way.  In addition sometimes roads are too narrow.  Imagine a road that has one lane going each way.  But there are also people walking on the road (with no shoulder) on each side.  Then there are bicycles on each side who have to pass the walkers.  Then there are motorcycles which have to pass the bicycles.  Then there are vehicles which have to pass the motorcycles.  It gets dicey when multiple people are trying to pass at once.  It's like 8 lanes of traffic in the space of 2 lanes.
  • Police stopping us for routine checks.  I even didn't get angry when a policeman reached out and stroked my beard!  And when another policeman said, "How's Obama?"  I said, "I think he's doing fine!"
  • No official Rest Areas
  • Long tiring drives
  • Construction
  • People on the side of the road selling things, or asking for rides (I've been there asking for rides too at times! And often I don't mind helping someone out).
  • Border crossings - perhaps the most confusing, chaotic, and time-consuming part of traveling.

Here below are things that make me angry.  Please realize it's usually not one of these things alone that will make me really angry, but the cumulative impact of many of them in one journey.
  • People leaving animals untied so they run out into the road.
  • Sometimes in construction areas, there is no direction and you end up face to face with a bulldozer, trying to find your own way through.
  • I love organized construction areas.  But sometimes where they take turns letting traffic go through, first from one direction, then from the other, they have people holding up flags to let you know you have to wait until the other line of traffic finishes coming through.  It makes me angry when vehicles will disregard the construction workers and just go around the flags and run the oncoming traffic off the road.
  • No signs marking the names of roads, thus I get lost quickly even with a map.
  • No one obeying the few traffic lights in cities, just a chaotic mess in the middle of the intersection.  You have to force your way through.
  • People speeding (or as they say here - "over-speeding").  This happens all over the world.  But my experience in the US was that most people obey the speed limit laws generally.  Here, I honestly feel like I'm the only one (and Sara) who obeys the speed limit laws (and I mean even among my Christian friends which makes me the most depressed).  It's not the end of the world except for in places where I'm going 80-100 kph on the highway but then you have to slow down to 30 in the trading centers (that's like 18 miles per hour).  I will pass a truck on the highway, but then getting to a trading center one minute later, the truck or bus doesn't slow down, but I obey the limit.  So they have to pass me.  Then one minute later I'm passing them again.  One minute later they are passing me again.  It makes me angry.  It also makes me angry watching buses (like from a Christian bus company) going 100 through a 30 kph trading center.
  • Children lying down on the shoulder of the highway relaxing (so dangerous!)
  • Taxis doing whatever they want, overcrowding, not doing repairs, overspeeding, because they pay the police bribes. Most police aren't trying to uphold the law, but trying to make money.  Accidents are extremely common here.  Uganda ranks as one of the top countries in the world for lack of traffic safety.
  • That every accident becomes a hit and run because if the driver stops (even if it wasn't his fault) he may be beaten or killed by mob justice.
  • Motorcycle drivers going wherever they can find space, even if there is only a crack between vehicles.  What is worst is when they are too impatient to go around a roundabout or to get to their turn before moving into the other lane.  It is extremely common to find a motorcycle driving right at you down your lane against oncoming traffic because they are impatient.
  • Taxi drivers (or personal drivers) becoming very impatient during a traffic jam so they pass all the vehicles on the shoulder, thus forcing people who are walking to jump off the road (scarily dangerous!), or they pass in the right lane causing vehicles to have to suddenly veer off to their shoulder to not get into an accident (happens ALL the time).  To be honest, I used to try to hang a couple feet into the shoulder during jams to prevent all the taxis and other vehicles from passing on the shoulder.  I think it's unfair to the rest of us who are waiting patiently, for then we will never move.  But I made a decision to stop doing this as taxis will try to pass me anyway and a few times we nearly got our side mirror broken off. 
Now what do you notice about the things that make me angry?  I have realized it is mostly not about difficult driving conditions or wasted time.  No.  They mostly involve other people breaking the laws.  This is not surprising to me.  Since I was a child I have always had a profound sense of right and wrong.  This caused me to be a legalistic, self-righteous, and constantly obnoxious tattle-tale on my siblings.  I like rules and don't like it when other people break them.  This makes me feel guilty about my anger.  The world doesn't need more Pharisees who have no love but only anger at those who break laws.  And yet there are some Bible passages that make me think I shouldn't feel guilty.   I've always told my students that if you don't get angry at injustice and evil, then you are actually sinning. 

Let me post a few verses about breaking the law that I've been thinking about.  I know God's law is different from the laws of a country, but God does want countries to not be lawless and chaotic (as in the time of the book of Judges), and I know that God expects Christians to refrain from giving bribes and to obey the laws of the country we live in (Romans 13, Titus 3:1, Deut. 16:18-20, 1 Peter 2:13-17).   I really resonate with the Nehemiah passage below as I see Ugandans (and expats) hurting their own people through disobeying laws.  For a more extreme example see Psalm 139:19-22.

Psalm 119:53 - Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law.

Psalm 119:36 - Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

Nehemiah 5:1-8 - Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.”
Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.”
Still others were saying, “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.”
When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: “As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!” They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say.

So I think to myself, maybe it is right for me to feel angry when people are breaking the laws and endangering so many lives?  After all, doesn't God get angry as well?

But here is what gets me.  When I'm feeling really angry like this, I feel guilt.  And that could very well be the Holy Spirit working in me to convict me that my feelings are not appropriate, not healthy, and sinful.  And on top of the guilt, I just feel bad about myself having so much anger.  I don't like it.  I can't think of any other areas in my life where I get angry much at all, and definitely not to this extent.  The anger makes the drive uncomfortable for me and I'm sure for everyone else driving with me.  So that makes me think that it is wrong and that I need to get rid of it.  And then I read these passages and wonder if all my thoughts about "righteous anger" are just false rationalizations for my sin:

Psalm 4:4 - In your anger do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.

Proverbs 22:24-25 - Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person,
    do not associate with one easily angered,
or you may learn their ways
and get yourself ensnared.

Proverbs 29:11 - Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.

Ecclesiastes 7:9 - Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 - Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Ephesians 4:26-27 - “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

James 1:19-20 - My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

So what is the balanced message on anger that the Bible gives us?  I think my conclusion for now is that it is right to get angry at injustice.  Far worse is apathy and turning a blind eye.  But that anger quickly becomes sinful if we don't handle it correctly.  If it gets fueled by my pride, thinking about how righteous I am, then it becomes sinful anger.  If it causes me to dislike people or wish them ill, then it becomes sinful anger.  If it becomes anger that dwells in me instead of being given over to God to take care of, then it becomes sinful anger.  I think I must recognize the anger when it comes, but then give judgment over to God (as Sara keeps reminding me to do), recognize my own sinfulness and flaws (in driving but also in any other area of my life), forgive those who have done wrong, and ask God to help in the situation.

Here is a quote from John Piper which I find helpful - "So we should get angry with sin, but that anger should be so mingled with heart-sorrows for the people sinning."

One thing I have been trying to do for the last couple months of driving is to pray for each person who does something against the law that makes me angry.  That has been working pretty well and is channeling my anger in a good direction.  I pray that God will bless the taxi driver, take care of his family, draw him to himself, and help him to drive more responsibly.  I need to keep following through with this practice.  But I need to consciously work on giving up my bitterness, and forgiving each person as well in those very moments.

What other tips can you give me to work on this anger problem?  I think we can all agree that these things I've listed are real problems, and East Africa would go far in development if the laws were obeyed and enforced.  But I'm not in control of that, I'm only in control of my own actions.  So please give me some wisdom.
One thing is for sure - both Sara and I are very thankful that in our new position we won't be driving so much.  For the past 2 years, on average, I was out traveling for trainings/meetings and not working at home for about 40% of the days.  That's a lot for a homebody like me!

Thank you for your prayers for me.  It's not only important to pray that my teachings would be successful, but that God would continue to grow me in holiness and love.


  1. Hi Anthony --
    I really appreciate your honesty! It's a good thought-provoking blog that makes me look at my own internal angers and question why I'm angry about them.

    This quote: "The anger makes the drive uncomfortable for me and I'm sure for everyone else driving with me" really resonated with me, as someone who has often ridden with a person (who shall remain nameless!) who can occasionally be an "angry driver." For the sake of anyone riding with you, your efforts to control or redirect your anger will be appreciated. It's helpful to me when the person I mentioned tells me what's going on in his head, and sometimes turns it into humor. At least that makes me feel a little safer, that he isn't going to react to the situation irrationally and unexpectedly.

    Continuing to pray for you and Sara as you transition to your new role!
    -- Sharon

  2. Anthony,

    I think you have come to some excellent conclusions about anger and sin with regard to driving, so I'm not so sure you really need ideas from us. You already have the situation resolved and are on the correct path.

    I don't get nearly as upset about bad driving as I did years ago and what has caused the improvement is my effort to think of the people who are exhibiting the poor driving and care about them, instead of criticizing them (in my mind). I practice "loving" them and feeling sorry for them that they don't understand the problems they are causing or they don't care about anyone but themselves. Are they saved, even if they might be Christian, if the only one they care about is themselves?

    With specific regard to obeying speed limits. I must confess that I am not the best at that. Yes I try to follow the 70 mph limit on our highways, but I usually exceed it a little so that I blend with the main body of the traffic, but on local roads, especially here in East Lansing, there are these inanely low speed limits -- 25 mph on a perfectly clear and safe road where it should be 35 or 40. I find myself doing the higher speed and have to fight with myself to slow down toward 25 (like maybe driving at 30). So I can't help much with your frustration with speeders, but I do understand your point -- the law is the law, no matter whether you agree with it or not, and should be followed, even if it isn't really saving anyone's life by following it.

    Hope you're both doing well.


  3. Thanks Bill! I don't want to be legalistic about speed limits (like yelling at someone going a few over), but generally trying to follow them is good. Sounds like you aren't doing too bad :)

  4. Peter Kuhl, Madison SquareJanuary 8, 2016 at 9:38 PM

    Anthony, Driving in Kenya is bad too. My only advice is to ask the Holy Spirit for skill and care. If you think about what is at stake maybe the anger can be dissipated. Driving is the most dangerous thing you do in Africa. A few years back I did a month at Kijabe and during that time, two missionaries by accident killed two pedestrians in separate incidents. Very devastating and dangerous as you spoke of. Just take care!!!!

  5. Hi Anthony,
    I too experienced road rage. I always felt that people were driving as they did just to make my life miserable. I did not want others to control MY life! Then one cold, very snowy day with ice on the road I came upon a car going 20 mph. I was furious. I followed the car on it's tail, blinked my lights and even hit the horn. Finally I decided to pass the car on a curve through the ice and snow hoping I didn't end up in a ditch. As I passed I gave the evil-eye to the driver and there was a young girl, a new driver, crying. She was just trying to make it home safely from school I thought. What right did have to put my anger upon her. I changed at that moment. Now when I drive I just do it safely and let the others do their thing. I guess you could say that I'm in this "driving world" but not of it. Can you imagine how Christ felt when he looked around and, knowing right from wrong, saw everyone doing wrong. Did he have a hidden rage? I wonder? Good luck with your rage and keep praying.

    Dave LaGuire, Michigan USA

  6. Thanks Dave, I appreciate the comment! What gets me most riled up is when I see people endanger the lives of others. Which I think if I didn't get angry about, there would be something wrong.

    But I think I have to learn how to let it go, not hold on to it, not let it make me bitter, not let it make me hate the other driver.