Sunday, September 13, 2009

Traffic Mongolian Style...

After I upload my pictures from the country, I will finish my travelogue from Mongolia.  For now, there have been little vignettes of observation that have captured my attention.

Mongolia like many emerging countries with ever increasing access to newer technologies and ways of doing things has changed rapidly. According to those in our group who have been coming to Mongolia for over 14 years, 10-14 years ago, there were few cars in UB and people still got around on horses, even in city.  There were few apartment buildings.  Even in the city people still lived a fairly traditional life.  As modernization has snuck in with ever increasing strength, the city has multiplied without benefit of city planning.  Buildings have popped up everywhere.  Cars have multiplied in a manor that would make rabbits seem impotent.  The streets have few lights, few rules, no cross walks.  In general it is mass chaos.

Getting in a car is an act of great faith, crossing the street even worse.  We had cab rides to go 2-3 miles that took 45 minutes. On one fateful cab trip the 4 women of the group each told each other our wishes in case we died, and we weren't exaggerating although we were laughing.  (Maybe my parents had a point with the whole will, power of attorney thing.) When the Lama was driving us to the infamous dinner, he declared that traffic rules were beneath him and proceeded straight.  Prompting us to declare "breaking the law with the Lama."  We hopped his karma would extend to us and keep us safe.

Walking across the street took guts and courage, we got better over the week, but still.  One day leaving the hospital, there were two small children (4-6 year olds, I'd guess) crossing the street completely alone.  There were cars whizzing towards them and they just took off into the street.  Feeling protective and horrified, Monica and I tried to cross the street with them, figuring we at least were taller than the hoods of the cars.  The children looked at us like we were insane.  That we didn't see traffic accidents every moment was shocking to me.

The head of our group had a meeting with the minister of health one day while we were there who said the number one thing he'd do to improve health and safety in Mongolia would be to install traffic lights and enforce seat belt and car seat laws. From what I saw that would be a good thing.

Mongolia strooling acoss the street with his hand up, to say "hey don't kill me"
Our group walking purposefully across the street trying to not get killed.
A brief nonrepresentative snapshot of what traffic was like.

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