Here is a story I heard from neighbours who came to visit my dad, after he got rear-ended by a car, fall from his bike and broke a bone in his head, when I was in Addis.
This wasn’t the first time these neighbours were at my family’s home to visit a victim of a car accident. My younger brother Tagel, as in Hell-rasier – “Jail-bird Tagel”, has spent three months in the hospital after being run over by a car – had every bone in his leg and one of his arms crushed, and blood leaked into his brain; denying him the ability to speak for more than 6 months. A year later, he still finds it hard to form a coherent sentence when he is upset, still walks with a limp, is unable to flex the fingers on his right hand and has to stuff a wad of cotton in one of his ears so he could go to sleep without a splitting headache [blood used to come of this same ear, my sister has told me, many weeks after the accident].
Alas.. Tagel, they say, is one of the lucky ones. For.. the driver who run him down [“a saint”, they call him, “a real Ethiopian”, “a true man of God”] not only stopped, got out of his car, and flagged other cars from finishing the job at a great personal risk on himself [it was around 11 night]; but carried my brother in his arms all the way to the hospital wailing inconsolably. My mother still remembers fondly how he is said to have been covered in blood when he got to the ER, where he apparently called his young wife and bade her goodbye, “yesewu lij gediyalehu… bey bichashin nesh.. lijachinin asadgi”.
This – in a country where even the most humane person admits the best route to take after hitting a person with your car is either to step on the gas or finishing them off so you don’t have to deal with hospital bills; corrupt cops and Attorneys who won’t leave you alone even if the person you hit has been made whole and refused to press charges against you and/or “yedem kassa” of maybe 10 thousands – not to mention a personal liability that may last you a lifetime – merits a badge of decency.
Or so most seem to think.
[It should be noted that my brother’s “gechi” did not only pay all bills related to my brother’s hospital stay – but has himself and his family spend nights taking personal care of him – allowing my mother to keep her job and my dad to sleep in his own bed – not to mention the countless gifts they got him and “teBots” they brought my family every time they visited afterwards. “Beteseb”, my parents consider him now. And my dad, before his own accident, has actually gone to the Yeka Kifle Ketema Police station and provided a sworn statement allowing all cases to be dropped against the young man, and the small publishing press his family runs]
Like I said, Tagel was one of the very lucky ones.
The rest, i.e. the 1 out of every 5 car accident victims in Ethiopia, are left to die in the street – and they do – so the driver can avoid the inconvenience of dealing with being held responsible for it.
I remember hearing back in the days, before:
1. every major street in Addis has been dug to lay China-constructed roads;
2. every sidewalk is being taken by either a “suQ bederete”, a “lemagn” or a guy with a Health-o-Meter charging 50 cents a weighting;
3. and driving became a rat-race taking place in a maze,
4. in cars whose safety belt is ripped out the minute they passed Customs; and suggesting wearing a belt makes passengers giggle
5. before Facebook posts and mobile phones distracted both driver and pedestrian in such a way that no body is looking where they are going half the time
6. in a city where cars parked in the middle of the street because of said over-flowing activity in the pavement
7. on roads with NEITHER traffic lights nor zebra crossings to speak of
Anbessa Bus’ policy on car accidents used to be “if you got into an accident, you better kill the accident”.
This was ten.. twenty.. years ago; prior to EPRDF perceiving infrastructure to be it’s only remaining – good – legacy and contracted out the whole nation to its Chinese Over-lords without any consideration as to what or who would be lost in the process! To build on steroids, as some would say.
So .. in those less-accident prone days, where an Anbessa Autobus can chase you down and not hesitate to damage your car for passing him on a lane he was hoping to get in, drivers, apparently, got fired or forced to pay insurance when they wound somebody. If they killed the person, however, the company – not wanting to fork the thousands of birr in “kassa” – hires a lawyer to defend the offender. And that lawyer, rumor has it, would shame OJ Simpson’s defense-team in his ability to win a case and allow criminals to go free.
So the story [my neighbours tell] is about this guy who – on his way home one night, came across a person lying in the street. He stops his car, gets out, and investigates. Upon investigation, he learns man lying on street has been hit by a car but was still breathing. This Good Samaritan grabs man by the leg – or arm – puts him in his car and rushes him to the hospital. Man’s life is saved, but not before the local police showed up, slaps the cuff on Good-Samaritan’s hand, and drag him to “kerchele”, for refusing to take responsibility for “meGcheting” the man. Fortunately for the G.S. guy, patient woke up and confirmed it was a different car at an earlier point that run him down. Man goes home. Patient stays in hospital. [Real perp breathes a sign of relief]. Everybody is happy.
If the victim hasn’t waken up, needless to say, it would have been a different story.
Even if you had witnesses, they say, who can corroborate as to who hit whom and when, you would not avoid getting involved in the unpleasant business of the criminal justice system in Ethiopia by the mere act of removing the body from where it lay. You are, in effect, “tampering with evidence” – making it hard for cops to do their jobs.
Need I underline what the lesson of the story is? Or what a root it seems to have taken? And how I have come to learn three people I know [a neighbour’s kid, my mother’s friend’s college educated son and a buddy of my truck-driver cousin who fall asleep behind the wheel were a few of the many fatal traffic accidents whose killer is still at large?!]. And how in a country which has, according to Newsweek “in excess of 190 fatalities per 10,000 vehicles — compared with Kenya and United Kingdom, where the figure is about 19 and 2 per 10,000 vehicles, respectively” and a continent that has less than has 4% of the world’s cars, that this is a scary lesson?!
[Does this make you want to petition all your family and friends, giving “the danger of dying through a car accident any day now” as a reason?! God help them, but it does me].
[And dare I add how I have only witnessed one fatality in the 6 years I lived in America – and that in a town called San Marcos in Los Angeles. And the one place in Seattle considered an unsafe corridor – pron to car-accidents, Rainier Avenue, which “claims 1/30th of the city’s traffic collisions, and an even larger share of traffic fatalities — two in the last three years, 11 in the last 10” is a mostly Ethiopian and Somali community? And if you looked into a car whose driver refused to yield for you, or drove after yielding in a way that endangered your feet; it’s more likely than not to be an East African driver or a fucking Asian bitch?]
We should be able to do something about this!!!
Incase you haven’t been home for years and didn’t know how bad it has gotten; here is a little of what I noticed when I was there two months ago. First video courtesy of MamaZ:
Read more: An Ethiopian Holocaust.