A couple months ago I got into a pretty horrific road accident in the middle of Kifue National Park, about 4.5 hours outside of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. My driver lost control of the wheel, the car flipped five times into the bush, and I found myself hanging upside down by my seat belt. Some of you may think that the rest of this blog will be to warn you about the dangers of Zambian roads. It’s not. But there are a few things that really hit home with the experience that I now feel are crucial rules to live by on the roads in order to avoid this:

Zambia crashed car photo

  1. Buckle up (no really… every time… seriously… no excuses… I mean it!)
  2. Fill up
  3. Speak up

1. The seat belt saved my life. I know you’ve heard this a million times before, but I also know you’ve totally gotten into a taxi without a seat belt and just figured everything would be okay because “it’s Africa” or “it’s not that far of a drive.” Don’t give me that look. I know you’ve done it because I’ve done it too. We’ve all done it. Well don’t do it anymore! There is no question in my mind that I would be dead without that seat belt. I would have been thrown from the car as it flipped and the closest doctor was 4.5 hours away. And the truth is that I ALMOST wasn’t wearing it. When I got in the car, the belt buckle was buried in the seat, I couldn’t find it, and like so many times before I was ready to just say, “well this is normal in Africa” and let the car drive. But I found it and buckled in. Next time you’re coming back from the bar late at night and the cab doesn’t have a working buckle, GET OUT. There are other cabs. Ones with working buckles. Use those. Use a condom every time. Use a seatbelt every time too. Just do it.

2. The second nugget of wisdom is fill your phone. Fill your phone with airtime, fill your phone with contact numbers, and fill your phone with battery life (charge it!). It was twenty minutes after the crash before the first car drove by in the correct direction. I needed phone credit to coordinate a potential pick up and contact people about which hospital I should be heading to. The crash happened only on my third day in Zambia. Usually it takes me a few days to transfer phone numbers from my email into my actual phone (what’s the rush, right?). I’m glad I thought to punch them into my phone when I did, otherwise I would have had no way to call anyone. I initially thought I’d buy more phone credit once I got to the refugee camp I was heading to, but luckily I bought some the night before and bought a ridiculous amount. This ridiculous amount was depleted by the end of the day. So was my phone battery. Getting in a car crash is terrible enough. Not being able notify my colleagues that I was in a crash or make sure someone was waiting to meet me at the hospital would have been all that much worse. Fill it up!

3. Speak up. Drivers are drivers, right? Wrong! YOU are the driver (okay… that’s a bit dramatic, but you know what I mean). My driver was driving 120km/hr on a very narrow road. I told him to slow down once, which he did, but when he sped up again I figured, “I’m sure it’ll be fine.” It wasn’t. If you’re uncomfortable, or if you think your driver is driving too fast, or drunk, or something is just off, speak up! That’s the same for when you’re on a motorcycle taxi or in a bus. Learn how to say, “pull over now,” in whichever language and get out of the vehicle. Luckily, you’ll have loaded up your phone [see number two] so you’ll have enough phone credit and charge to call a different car to pick you up. The extra time and money is worth it. Believe me… I know.

Buckle up, fill up, and speak up. Words to live by. Literally.

Posted in: My Driver Project


Thursday, November 5, 2015 4:18 PM
We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.

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About the Authors

Bobby Gondola
Debra Bokur

Globe Tripper
At Grand Central Station when she was 9 years old, Debra Bokur decided that a different train from the one her parents were boarding looked as though it might be going someplace more interesting, so she took that one instead. She still loves trains, and has since traveled the world as an award-winning journalist, magazine editor and filmmaker. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Debra contributes regularly to Global Traveler Magazine, and serves as the magazine website’s daily feature writer.

Debra is a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001). She holds degrees in both Theater and English Literature, and has been the poetry editor of the nationally acclaimed literary journal Many Mountains Moving since 2002. She has also been the travel editor at national publications including Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine, American Cowboy Magazine, and Fit Yoga Magazine, and has been a frequent guest on Wine Country Network’s national radio program discussing the topic of international travel.

Debra once lived a double life training horses professionally in the disciplines of dressage and three-day eventing while serving as an editor and writer at several equestrian-themed publications. Her current favorite places to wander are Iceland, Switzerland, the U.K., Israel and Italy. In her new blog, Globe Tripper, Debra will bring us along on her adventures.

Bobby Gondola
Bobby Gondola

World Wanderings
Bobby Gondola serves as Director of Operations & Development at Year Up, a nationally recognized workforce development and higher education program for urban young adults. He leads both the internal operations and external relations. Previously, he was Director of External Relations at Opus 118 Harlem School of Music in New York City, the Harlem-based violin program made famous by Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart. He also worked as a community development consultant in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa.  

Bobby earned a B.A. in painting and politics from Salve Regina University and studied abroad in Rome, Italy. He also holds an M.P.P. in Political Advocacy and Leadership from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he was a Public Service Fellow. Bobby lives in Providence, Rhode Island and serves on theWaterFire Providence Board, College Leadership Rhode Island Program Committee, and the Providence Public School Board. He has traveled to all continents, except Antarctica and Australia, which he’ll get to. Eventually.

Aaron Shapiro
Aaron Shapiro

My Driver Project
Aaron Shapiro is a 2011 alumnus of University of Maryland, College Park, where he received a B.S. in Global Health and completed a minor in International Development and Conflict Management. After graduating, he joined the Global Health Corps as a program manager for Gardens for Health International in Kigali, Rwanda. Aaron has interned for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security, the Social Justice Coalition in Cape Town, South Africa, and volunteered at St. Lucia Hospice and Orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania. Aaron has also traveled in Congo, Burundi, Uganda, and Zambia. He is currently working in Washington, D.C. and applying to medical school.

Photo of Natalia Jaffee
Natalia Jaffee

Traffic Lights are Optional in Hanoi
Natalia Jaffee is a 10th grade student at the United Nations International School of Hanoi. She grew up in Potomac, MD and attended Cold Spring Elementary School and Cabin John Middle School. While visiting Maryland in the summer of 2011, she interned at ASIRT and published a personal account of the road situations in Vietnam. Natalia enjoys traveling and has traveled throughout East Asia. In her free time, she enjoys running, playing soccer, cooking, and reading.

Photo of Laura Blanar
Laura Blanar

From A to B Safely: A Transportation Travel Blog
Laura Blanar traveled through Asia, Africa and Oceania with her husband, Adam, for 14 months. Prior to her travels, she worked at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as a research scientist, and in injury and violence at PAHO/WHO as a contractor. Laura holds a Masters of Health Science from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a specialization in health systems, and also obtained the B.A. in public health from the Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in several professional journals relating to injury and public health. In September 2011, Laura entered a PhD program at the University of Washington in public health, with a focus on injury. When not traveling, Laura enjoys running, wood carving and reading non-fiction and mystery books.