Tuesday, July 8, 2008

You Can Tell a Lot about a People...

I feel that the heart of a culture can be understood by how they treat cyclists and pedestrians. For instance, in the U.S. people don't pay much attention to them, but when it is brought to their attention three out of five drivers are generally remorseful that they almost killed a person. I know this because I did a survey before I left the States. A few people argued with me that I shouldn't be on the road (um, check your laws people, bikes are SUPPOSED to be on the road) and the others were actually sorry. I mean that literally, they apologized to me. This was quite eye-opening for me because prior to this experiment I figured people were out to get cyclists and thus, frankly, I was rather rude when people almost killed me. Now I know I should just talk to them about it. I became a little education machine my last two months in DC.

What does that say about the States? It says we are a very diverse lot, but at the core we are fairly considerate and basically respect human life (granted there are still those two out of five people who would be happy to see me dead -- that is the diversity I love so much).

Here, people want to kill me. That is all I can figure, since they laugh when almost running me over. Tuk drivers purposely push me off the road to ask if I need a taxi -- all they see are dollar signs when they see me, not a human life. The other night I waited for more than five minutes to get across a road, to turn right, because no one would let me turn. They were driving very slowly, but every time I tried to just push in the driver would honk and I know that means, "hey, I'll kill you before I let you in." How do I know that -- because drivers have told me as much. The worst part is that people slow down to stare at the crazy sight of a white person on a bike, but they still won't let me pass! That is so infuriating. This says that they are a curious people, but they have little respect for life. This can also be seen via the suicide rate here (apparently another person committed suicide in Una -- he threw himself in the family well, which they didn't discover until they started to get sick from the water).

And why do I care? I'm out of here in three weeks. I should just move on, right? But I do actually care about this country I've called home for a year and seriously, there is going to be a major problem here in a few years (o.k. now). There are more cars on the road then when I arrived and the number is only increasing (despite the horrible economy -- someone explain this to me). There are, as far as I can tell, only two roads in the entire country with more than one lane. And while the rest of the world is actually turning to public transportation and biking, Sri Lanka is turning away. This is a problem. The road system can not handle this amount of traffic. And their air quality is being seriously degraded and death by motored vehicles is on the rise. And the petrol is leaded, so even better for your little lungs (I don't want to see what mine look like after only a year).

I see the learner cars (they have red "L's" on them) and they drive the speed limit and such, so people are actually taught the rules of the road. They choose to ignore them and the fact that the police couldn't be bothered to enforce them just makes people ignore them even more. I realize Sri Lanka is in the middle of a war, but I think it would really benefit from some civil obedience in regards to mundane road rules. The VSO language teacher when asked about Stop signs had to have them explained to her and then she responded, "Oh, no one would pay attention to that so we don't have them." And it is true -- they don't even follow traffic lights. I have to slow down at intersections even when I have a green light.

Sri Lanka's Tourism Board wants to make Sri Lanka a "Carbon Lung" for travelers, but as long as they basically discourage tourists from biking and walking, by making it impossible, there is no way they can claim traveling in Sri Lanka is carbon neutral. They don't have enough tree canopy to argue there is a counter-balance.

And they'll have to do something about the men if they want to encourage tourists to walk. Because being constantly harassed doesn't exactly make you feel safe.

And I realize this is not a new topic for my blog. I understand I talk about this all the time. But seriously, it is a constant pain in my neck here. Literally, my neck is in serious pain today and I believe part of it is stress related to biking.

I'm saying all this to reiterate that I'm ready to leave. Yep, just 18 days to go and I'm quite happy about it. Not that I really think Nepal and India will be better, but I have noticed that I'm better able to deal with the frustrations when I'm a tourist and not a resident. I think because you know you will be moving on in a few days.

This experience has caused me to re-evaluate my desire to work abroad. Maybe if I were making a real salary and didn't have to worry about money on a minute-by-minute basis it would be different, but as it stands now, I won't be looking for another job abroad. I just don't enjoy myself enough. Not that I was seriously happy in the States, but at least I could pay my bills and visit my family and friends.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy I had a year here and I did learn a lot, but the stress is not worth it. Plus, with climate change finally being dealt with in the States, there is probably more good I could do there than abroad. I'll move to the utopia that is Portland, OR and enjoy at least a couple of months of biking euphoria and being surrounded by people who actually care what happens to this planet we call home. Before Dick left he asked why I was moving to Portland, since environmentally they are done (I'm not sure that could ever be completely possible). He had a good point, but I feel I deserve a break. I'm tired of fighting. I want to just enjoy the fruits of my labor for a bit. Even if it is only two months (that is how long I'm giving my job search -- since I didn't make any money this last year I can't afford to be unemployed much longer than that). I want to bike while breathing clean air and drinking clean tap water! What a luxury.

P.S. If this entry sounds racist that is because it is. Yep, this year in Sri Lanka has taken perhaps the most open-minded, liberal person in the world and made her a racist. I must leave and soon! Also, I am totally aware that I'm idealizing the U.S. That is what happens when you live abroad, you become terribly patriotic. It doesn't matter what country you hail from, live away from it for any amount of time and it will become the greatest place on earth.

No comments: