On Saturday my friend Ricky* and I were invited over for paella at the Spanish Ambassador’s house, and we were running late. Desperately late. Absurdly late. Embarrassingly late. Part of the problem was that we had misunderstood the start time for lunch, but the majority of the problem was that traffic was desperately, absurdly, embarrassingly bad. There’s a key intersection in Conakry that has been under construction since before I arrived, and traffic pile-ups there are not uncommon. This one was uncommonly bad though – after perhaps 20 minutes of inching forward and then a good 10 minutes of solid standstill Ricky decided to walk up to the intersection and see what was going on.
I stayed in the car, being the driver and all, and noted to my pleasure and surprise that the situation did seem to have gotten better. The traffic was still very thick but seemed to be moving along at a swifter and more constant speed. The reason for the improvement was made clear when I got to the intersection and saw Ricky right in the middle, directing traffic. There he was in his flowered swim shorts and pink shirt, gesturing emphatically with his baseball cap and getting rather pink himself from sunburn and the exertion of giving Guineans spontaneous hands-on instruction in the theory and practice of the zipper merge. I wish I had taken a picture.
Meanwhile, the policemen who were supposedly in charge of managing traffic flows sat comfortably on a concrete barrier on the side of the road and gazed in bemused amusement at the crazy foté who had decided to take traffic law into his own hands. Once my car made it through Ricky jumped back into the passenger seat, after handshakes (and tips in small bills) all around. I hope they learned something about effective traffic management. We’ll consider it our own small contribution towards security sector reform.