Monday, 8 February 2016

Learning to Drive in India

Having Rahul, the little old red car, has made our travels to projects a lot easier as we can get there faster and not worry about leaving before it is dark. The only thing is that I cannot drive the car because I don’t know how to drive standard. Coming from Canada where everyone has an automatic vehicle, I never learned how to drive stick. Having this car has given me the opportunity to learn.

The community was very surprised at seeing the women interns driving. The mobility of women in Gajner is quite low. They mostly stay in the house. When women have to leave the house they will bring their husbands, fathers, children or brothers with them. This subjects them to stares, gossip, sexual harassment and rape, in serious cases. We decided that teaching women to drive could improve their mobility, independence and safety.

Many different women wanted to learn to drive but we decided to start with Manoj’s little sister, Durga, and Sunita, their neighbour. I was very excited to learn to drive with Ana and Ilaria as our teachers and my fellow students.

Claire trying to get through the traffic jam

Our first lesson was scary, fun and impressive all at the same time. I was first up. I was able to get the car in first and second gear after a couple of stalls. Through our broken Hindi and Durga and Sunita’s broken English, we explained how to shift and use the clutch. Durga stalled a couple of times but finally got the car into first gear. Sunita had a little more trouble but still got the car into first gear as well. We continued like this for a little while, switching up drivers. It was then Sunita’s turn. She started going fast so Ilaria and I were saying “Deera Deera”, “Slower” but she kept going. She turned the car to avoid a part of the road but we soon realized we were heading for the sand ditch. By the time she pressed the break we were stuck in the sand. Ilaria got into the driver’s seat and Durga, Sunita and I got in front of the car to push it out. We pushed and pushed, but it did not move and inch. We then realized that the back wheels were not touching the ground. Durga waved down a man walking by, who was one of Manoj’s close friends. He helps us dig the car out and push it out of the ditch. We thought ending the lesson here was a good idea.

Me teaching the girls how to drive

The next lesson, Sunita was at her cousin’s house so she didn’t join. Ana, Durga and I headed out. Durga practiced getting into first while I practiced getting into first and then second. This time, the car didn’t seem to be working well. We thought the car had only a little gas in it, as we never fill it up completely. Durga and I kept practicing even though the car did not sound great. Durga stalled the car and tried to turn it back on although it did not start. We thought it was probably out of gas. We called Manoj to bring gas, although he said he had filled the car with gas yesterday and there was no way it was out of gas. He came with gas anyways. When he arrived Manoj got into the car and said we had been driving the car with its lights on the entire lesson and turning the car off and on again killed the battery. Ana and I felt terrible because we thought we had killed the car. Manoj got us to push the car at running speed while turning the key. This restarted the car. Ana and I, relieved the car was okay, decided the car had enough hard work for the day and we ended the lesson.

Durga trying to turn on the engine 

In the most recent lessons, Durga had improved a lot, after a month of no driving. Durga can now get the car into first gear, drive to the end of the road, put the car in reverse and drive back without stalling. She also drove home after one lesson through deep sand with no stalling or getting stuck. We are only four lessons in, with a month break after the first two, and Durga impresses me every day with her confidence and perseverance.

The driving lessons are one of the most fun times of the week for me. I get to hang out with my friends, laughing and learning. This project is no longer just a project. It is a time for me to learn and spend time with the people that I have started to create long lasting friendships with.

Claire Mackie—Canada
Women’s Empowerment Coordinator, Gajner (Rajasthan) 

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