Tuesday, May 3, 2011

You can't teach an old dog new tricks-or can you?

One of the first things we will have to acquire when we move to South Africa is transportation for our family. When we spent time there in 2008, we were fortunate to have made a connection with a lovely couple that was going to be visiting the USA for almost the same amount of time that we would be in South Africa. We were able to rent their vehicle from them for a much better rate than we ever would have found through a rental agency. To make this deal even sweeter, the car was an automatic. Yes, I am one of those people who has never mastered driving a stick shift. I've tried, many times in fact, but as many people know, sometimes it's just enough that I am able to keep my automatic on the road!

There are many, MANY reasons why it would be better for us to by a car with a manual transmission. First off, they cost way less to buy and maintain. Automatics are not very prevalent in South Africa, which means the ones they have cost more and it's harder to get parts for them. We also might have a harder time finding the kind of car we want with an automatic transmission, so we will have less choice, which usually means more money will need to be spent. They also cost more to fill up with gas. So money is a huge factor. Huge.

On the other hand, there's the whole issue of safety. As I already said, I am not the world's best driver. Not the worst, so please don't think you can't get in a car with me, but when it rains (or snows) my eyesight takes a terrible turn for the worse. I feel much more comfortable if I know where I am going. Otherwise I tend to freak out a bit. I like to know when I have to turn about 5 minutes before the turn comes up. It's just how I am. I don't like there to be a lot of pedestrians or bicyclists. The less stuff I have to pay attention to, the better. Especially when my kids have decided that the van is a great place to have a shouting match.

So, now imagine me, a person who likes to know where I am going and what to expect along the way (pretty easy for me here in West Michigan) moving to South Africa and driving there. First, I'll have to learn to drive on the opposite side of the road. Yep. I already have images of accidentally turning into the wrong lane and being squished by a truck. Second, there are also a lot more pedestrians on the roads. Sometimes they are even standing in the middle of traffic trying to sell you things. It is also not unusual to see cows, goats and other small animals on the side of the road. People drive by a different set of rules than they do over here. Finally, I am guessing that for the first couple years, I will have no clue where I am going, even if it is somewhere I have been before. More than once. Even more than 4 or 5 times. Yep, I am that directionally impaired. Darin could have been somewhere one time 5 years ago and he could probably still get back to the same location. I would not even attempt such a thing.

So, that brings us to today. I received an email from a blogging friend who lives in South Africa reiterating all the reasons why buying a manual in South Africa makes so much more sense. That email led my to post the following on Facebook:

Does anyone in West Michigan have a stick shift vehicle that they'd be willing to let me learn to drive with over the next 5 1/2 weeks?

I shouldn't have asked if I didn't want an answer, because our friend Andy was quick to reply that we could use their car. In fact we could even come tonight for the first lesson. I did not reply because deep down, I really didn't want to spend my evening learning to drive a car, but Darin and Andy made the arrangements and a little after 6 tonight, we picked up their car and headed to one of the many church parking lots in the area. Oh, did I mention that the kids were with us. Good times. 

The driving lesson actually went just fine. I stalled a couple times, but I did a bang up job of driving around and around and around shifting from 2nd to third and back down again. I even managed to get into 1st without too many problems. Then I thought about driving in Africa and that was it. I got all flustered, started crying, hit Darin on the arm and yelled at him for being mean and unsupportive, got out of the car and walked away. Yep. That is how I chose to deal with my anxiety. I hit my husband. I also told my kids (who had been playing in the grass) to get away from me because I didn't want them to see me crying about a driving lesson. I did come back after a few minutes and Darin and I managed to have a little conversation and I finally felt like he wasn't a big ogre who was going to force us to buy a stick shift because I had done ok driving around the parking lot and he finally realized I wasn't really giving up, I was just scared.

Now I really and truly, deep down in my gut, feel like the best thing for our family (and the other people on the road) is that I stick to driving an automatic. I feel like there are already going to be a lot of strikes against me and my poor driving skills, so why not take control of this one area and get a car that I am actually able to drive. This does not mean that my driving lessons are finished. I told Darin that I will try again and who knows, maybe we'll find some parking lot with a hill so I can practice getting into 1st and the whole thing will click and I'll feel confident that I can drive a stick shift in South Africa. I really don't see that happening over the next 5 1/2 weeks, but anything is possible. I feel more comfortable waiting a few years until I am more familiar with the area I am driving in and the new environmental elements that I'll be facing and then, once I've conquered those new things we can think about buying a stick shift.


Katie said...

Jonna, I just wanted to tell you that I love you for your honesty. You are not the only one that reacts with emotion. Also, I did not ever want to learn to drive a stick shift, and I am also not the best driver anyway. After a while you do get used to it though. You're awesome!

Give Me Neither said...

I remember clearly get out of a manual car at a stop sign and telling Matt that I was done (after he wouldn't listen to me that I was done). Love you, Jonna. I understand the anxiety that a manual creates. It makes me anxious just thinking about it. You can do it!


The Feys said...

Thanks ladies. I will be taking a few more lessons, but honestly, I think I need a few years to acclimate to our new country before I try driving a stick shift in the city!

retha said...

So glad I learned while in school, else I would probably never have.

While waiting a few years even a few months can change what the area looks like. More goats, more donga's, (you know that word? - something like a furrow) oh and remember those other people who never learned to drive. With or without a stick, yes the once transporting others. ;o)) Just saying

You'll get used to it all soon, I'm certain!

The Feys said...

Retha, I hope I do get used to it! I have seen how crazy the traffic can be, especially when there are a lot of taxis on the road!
Darin and I were trying to figure out what donga's are, and all we can come up with is pot holes, big holes in the road that you try to drive around so you don't break your car!
Happy Mother's Day!

the dicocco gang said...

I only get around to peeking in at blogs every so often, so I'm terribly late with this one. I, too, learned to drive a manual for the first time here in South Africa. I was terrified. I put my favorite soothing CD into the car to play every time I got behind the wheel and the kids knew to just be q-u-i-e-t - only offering quips of encouragement every now and again. But, honestly. Truly honestly, within a couple weeks - TWO SHORT WEEKS - I realized I wasn't even thinking about driving anymore. Even on hills (which at first made me break out into a nervous rash and I'd end up jinxing the whole experience myself with my nervousness) - I was just doing them - and it was working.

You'll be able to do it! Worry about it for a minute (cuz I know it would be fruitless to tell you not to worry at all) but then set it aside. You are going to get it and you'll be so proud of yourself - and then you'll go on to do and experience so much more - and forget you ever didn't know how to drive here.

I'm rooting for you!!!

The Feys said...

Thanks Trace. I've been practicing here in Hudsonville and actually drove for a few miles. We'll see what happens when we get to South Africa. Thankfully we do have a bit of time before I'd need to be off driving on my own.

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