The Tuk-Tuk Lesson



She is a study in concentration. Hands on the controls, tentatively shifting gears, pink sari flying in the breeze. This young woman is my hero! Why? She’s learning to drive a tuk-tuk in a country where few women dare to drive!

I’m sitting on our balcony in Ella, Sri Lanka, watching the kids across the field play cricket. Out of the corner of my eye I see a red tuk-tuk appear with a man driving, and the tiny back seat is stuffed with wife and two little kids. Then it gets interesting. Husband and wife get out and exchange places. Wow! I can tell that he is very patiently instructing her in the art of driving a tuk-tuk – pretty much a hybrid of a 3-wheel motorcycle with a cab. She uses all her strength to yank the long starter lever on the floor … and off they go with the kids clapping.

She has lots of stops and starts, manages to kill it several times, but I can tell she’s talking to herself – I can do this. It probably doesn’t help that the village elders are looking on – judging.


After more than twenty revolutions around the field she drifts to a stop and I think the lesson is over, but No! Dad and the kids get out. She’s gonna solo! I love this couple! They are both bucking tradition. It reminds me of when James taught me how to drive a stick shift when we lived in Sudan. He said I was the master of the second-gear takeoff!

She starts out slowly, gradually gaining speed and confidence. And by the end of her fifth lap she is grinning, then smiling! I can only imagine what freedom she must be feeling. You go Girl!




We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

20 thoughts

  1. So awesome! What an amazing thing to witness. Thanks for sharing! I will often think of this lady from now on as yet another inspiration for equality. Thanks!

  2. After being in Bangkok, I would never drive a car, much less a tuk tuk on those streets. I like doing adventurous things, but that lady is truly brave. All the best James and Terri!

    1. Hi Steve, I remember those Bangkok tuk-tuk drivers – they take no prisoners. But since she was dodging cows, she may have a headstart. Sounds like you’re enjoying Bangkok – I thought you would. All the Best, Terri

    1. Hi Luffy. I truly couldn’t believe my luck. And the part I didn’t add is that there were cows in the field that she had to to dodge! Unbelievable! She’ll be ready for the big city. ~Terri

    1. Thanks so much for sharing my story. Seeing this woman always makes me smile! I am particularly intrigued by your “Rain Chronicles Project.” What a cool idea! All the best, Terri

      1. Thanks, Terri! It was a pleasure sharing your lovely story 🙂 The Rain Chronicles is something very close to my heart. Would love to have you add to it too. Do let mw know. Have a great day!

    1. Thanks so much Meredith. I’m glad to hear about the women tuk-tuk drivers in Colombo … and thrilled to hear that you found a good home for The Girls. That must be a tremendous relief for you. When is your big move? All the best, Terri

    1. Mark, International Affairs in Higher Education is a wonderful site. Thank you so much for the pingbacks to “The Tuk-Tuk Lesson.” Very much appreciated. All the best, Terri & James

  3. What a cute story! It brought to mind my Indian friend who now lives in Germany, and who refuses to drive in Germany. She said that German rules are so complicated, that there are too many signs, and that she’d much rather take on India’s streets. I beg to differ. 🙂 It’s so interesting how our home environments shape our perspectives.

    1. Thanks Tricia,
      I guess that no matter what, we’re always more comfortable driving in our home environment – probably based on comfort level and the feeling that we can “predict what other drivers will do.” I know that when we moved to Khartoum and started driving, everything seemed so unpredictable. They only used hand signals (not the car’s blinkers) to warn you of upcoming changes. It was pretty wacky and took a while to learn and adapt. ~Terri

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