Mali, February 19, 2005
How can you see the road though all that windshield grime?
We are on the road to Timbuktu, the long, dusty, dirty road to Timbuktu. We've crossed deserts, we've crossed rivers, and we've crossed the country, but not once in that entire two day and one thousand kilometer trip have we once used the windshield wipers.|
Not when it sprinkled, not when we went through mud, not even when the windshield was so covered in dirt and bugs that I felt like sticking my head out the window to see ahead. Our driver, Issa, seems to practice the Malian rule: never, ever, clean your windshield.
I've been in taxis where the windshield is so dirty that I could not see out of it. I've heard that even in downpours, Malians don't use windshield wipers, preferring to drive like they drink, by Braille.
Once you investigate the cars, the reasons why no wipers = good wipers starts to make sense. First, cars here are usually on their second or third life, having been driven around Europe and then West Africa before making it to Mali. This means that little things like wipers don't usually work. It also means that even if they do, people are afraid to use them, lest they break now.
Also, windshields are not so common here, or at least they seem to be used till they are more opaque than transparent. Many are so scratched from use as to be psychedelic when you look through them. Or they have big impact craters from a goat or rock strike.
For me, the guy who obsessively cleans his glasses three times a day, and used his windshield wipers every hour when he had a car, its hard for me not to clean ever Malian windshield I look though. Or try to look though. I'm just happy that when Issa wasn't looking, I reached over and turned on our wipers, finally cleaning the windshield. Funny enough, I don't think Issa even noticed.