The safety-guys would have kittens (or goats)

Sadly, I don’t have a photo for this one – they always pass by so fast that I don’t have time to take the camera out. Anyway…

One thing that amazes me about life in much of Latin America is the – to my Anglo eyes – startlingly-cavalier attitude to safety. Why bother with a proper ladder: we’ll knock one up from whatever scraps of wood that we happen to have lying around. Safety-harness for working way up top of a fifty-foot tree – what’s that? Maximum-passengers on this bus? – as many as we can cram in, sitting down, standing up or, in extreme cases, hanging off the side. And seat-belt? – only crazy people do that, you’re safer leaving it undone so that you’re able to jump out if the car goes off a cliff. Yikes…

Perhaps the most visible example here is the ubiquitous moto – a generic term for any small motorcycle or scooter. By law, you’re required to wear a helmet and a jacket, both labelled with the bike’s registration-number – which isn’t actually about safety, but a futile attempt to control ride-by robberies, which are still a real problem in the city. Out here, well away from the stresses of the city, almost no-one cares about the law, of course. Other than the serious bikers – who do at least recognise that they need safety-gear at 150km/h on twisty gravel-strewn mountain roads – no else seems to bother at all.

Which gets kind of interesting at times… Out in the town (the old pre-1750s capital, Antigua Guatemala) it’s common to see a mother or father ride by with a child sitting on the fuel-tank or standing up in the empty-space of a scooter, holding on to the handlebars with a huge grin, in the happy belief that they’re the ones actually driving the bike. (Uh – sometimes they are…) It’s not unusual to see a whole family like this, one child in front, another squeezed between parents or other adults, all wobbling along those wet cobbled streets that have no junction-markings and no apparent real road-rule other than ‘keep right if you feel like it’, and dodging between the equally-ubiquitous bicycles and the lumbering, flatulent ‘chicken-buses’ (ex-US school-buses, of which there seem to be an endless supply) and the puttering, swerving, unstable ‘tuk-tuk’ mini-taxis and all the other traffic.

Probably the most extreme example, though, was one my colleague Michael spotted on the main mountain highway the other day. Sputtering up the steep hill in the spluttering rain was yet another moto, with the whole family on board: eldest child (perhaps five years old) sitting on the fuel-tank, father on the controls (possibly), then mid-child (perhaps three years) squeezed in between him and mother, who was sitting side-saddle, holding on with one hand, and holding current baby to the breast with the other (whilst breast-feeding, of course). All manner of packages hung off the sides and back, none of them very secure at any speed. In itself, not all that unusual here. But the real masterpiece? Stretched across and beyond the handlebars was a wooden pole, vaguely tied on with string. And at each end of the pole, randomly swaying back and forth with every bump and turn in the road, was a wicker basket – each containing one very unhappy goat.

None of them had helmets, of course. Not even the goats.

The safety-guys would have kittens about that. (Or goats.)

Yet it does all seem to work, somehow.

Might be a lesson in there for enterprise-architecture too, but I’m not sure that I want to go that far. Yikes indeed…! 🙂

2 Comments on “The safety-guys would have kittens (or goats)

  1. “Yet it does all seem to work, somehow.” If you live there long enough and start also seeing that it actually sometimes doesn’t work. And not working sometimes can be disastrous, especially when human life is in focus. I had similar impression on the chaotic Russian traffic. During 2 years I lived there, I saw a lot of terrible accidents, a lot more than what I used to see in Europe. Worse, I heard people I know were killed in those accidents. That didn’t happen to me before. I’m a young person. People around me don’t die. That was a very unexpected experience. I’m not used to that. But there this is reality. That you see when you live there long enough. So it only _seem_ to work… at first…

    • Iyigun: “If you live there long enough and start also seeing that it actually sometimes doesn’t work” – yes, of course. And especially serious if there’s no social ‘safety-net’: there was a continuous stream of people coming onto the ‘chicken-buses’ in Guatemala asking for alms (donations) because they were unable to work because of some accident.

      Yet it does happen everywhere, even in a more overtly safety-conscious society. My next-door neighbour’s son in Australia died when he wrapped his car around a tree: youth in itself can be a very dangerous time… 🙁

      (One of the worst factors for human-made hazard is alcohol and other drugs – in Australia a more rigorous approach to drink-driving (official slogan: “If you drink, then drive, you’re a bloody idiot” – plus, more seriously for the ‘hoons’, formal confiscation of the driver’s vehicle) cut the ‘road-toll’ by almost two-thirds. Interestingly, I didn’t see much drinking going on in Antigua, other than the foreigners: I presume it happens somewhere, but there wasn’t the bar-culture or ‘six o’clock swill’ that epitomised ‘traditional’ Australian working-class culture. Each country’s different, I guess.)

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