This article is here today because I know the author, Jesse Wong. He and his wife and two kids left a comfortable life in North America to work in a hospital in Rwanda, Africa.
Having lived here now for over 2 years, I have had my fair share of learning how to drive on these roads. Interestingly enough, Rwanda has had a lot of development in terms of rebuilding the many roads. The Chinese have done an incredible job and carving out switchbacks into what I think is one of the most windiest and nauseating places in the world to drive. But this smooth tarmac, though brand new, is now an accident and death trap for motorists. Especially “motos”.
Transportation is expensive. Most people can’t afford a vehicle, nor a trip on a taxi. But hopping onto the back of a moto taxi is a cheap alternative and you can get to your destination in no time. Unfortunately, there are so many curves on these single lane highways, and with so many transport trucks and passenger carriers, passing is incredibly difficult. Especially when these trucks drive in the center of the road.
We were returning from a short trip and came across a terrible crash. A moto driver carrying medicines for one of the health centers attempted to pass a transport truck and was likely pinned. His helmet was off his head (helmets here are called brain buckets, that’s all they do) and he was contorted and fresh pink arterial blood was everywhere.
The accident had happened about three minutes prior. I wasn’t sure if the person was dead or alive. Despite my Kinyarwanda and communication, the policeman and witness were making it very difficult for me to approach.
“Please, can I help, I am a doctor.”
“I’m not taking any photos. I just want to help. Is the person alive still?”
“IT IS ILLEGAL TO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS OF A CRASH SCENE!”
“Ndi Muganga (I am a doctor) – I want to help.”
“I understand… I told you I have no phone. Let me help!”
As I checked for a pulse, in which there was none, I asked myself… do I even bother with performing CPR? What is this man’s chance of survival? Will he end up a paraplegic or quadriplegic? I remember one of the surgeons saying that quadriplegics die here in Rwanda, as there are no support systems to take care of them, no wheelchairs or even adequate roads to support them, it would be better to let them remain dead.
And so I stepped away from the first road fatality that I have witnessed in my life, and likely not my last. Just a lesson in life, culture, and tarmac. Turns out this was the 3rd fatality in this village since the road was completed about 2 years ago. I’m surprised it is that low. But as a dentist I have seen my life’s share here of terrible crashes and the damage to the face, teeth and lips. The ones that appear on Friday afternoons and I can’t even begin to know where to start, what to sew up first and what tooth to remove or splint.
These fatalities and crashes won’t decrease. I am wondering if there are any creative, economical new ways to prevent accidents like these in a continent where poverty sustains these dangerous means of transport. Any ideas anyone?
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