A bit of traffic

I’ve been warned about how bad traffic is in Nairobi, but its was quite hard to fathom what it’s really like until you’ve had to experience it first hand.

First comes the rain. This is never a good sign for the commuter. When the heavens open up, Nairobi comes to a stop.

The plan was to travel across town for a welcome dinner with the other volunteers already stationed here. It was 4pm, when we watched helplessly as the drops of water hammered down onto our roof. It wasnt till 6pm till the vehicles arrived to pick us up.

The first thing we noticed as we hit the road was the flooding. The street was a torrent of brown water gushing out from overflowing open canal drains near the footpaths. This is when gumboots would come in handy, a kiddies puddle paradise for grown ups, who didn’t look like they were quite as excited water. Ahead of us, three vehicles had already collided and that didn’t help us move anywhere soon. After a few aggressive manuevers onto oncoming traffic our car finally arrived at the mainroad. We inched forward meter by meter, each move being a victory of sorts.

It seemed that in the midst of frustration, the industrious Kenyan makes the most opportunity out of a captive audience. Men wander around to each vehicle in the slow traffic, flogging everything from apples, nuts, pillows, Scrabble board games, dvds, statues of rhinos and even inflatable Miffy pool toys. One can do all their shopping out of their car window, like a drive through plaza where the merchandise come to you. We used them to practise our Swahili, especially the word ‘harpana’ (no). By the roadside, lines of Kenyans stood helplessly stranded at the matatu (the Kenyan version of a mini-bus) stand, desperately trying to get home on the overcrowded vehicles.

We attempted to take a short cut but eventually came to a stand still. On the radio, a program called ‘Busted!’ was being streamed, where frustrated partners expose their cheating spouses live on air to the rest of Nairobi. We listened on as a hapless woman was trapped into admitting that she didn’t know who the father to her baby was. To relieve our boredom, we started a series of car games. After trying to name different types of chocolate bars, African countries, human organs and beer, we moved on to a competition on who can bring the most items to a picnic. By 9.30pm, our vehicle had only moved a few meters, so we turned off the engine, got out of the car and made our own party by dancing and singing on the streets along to the hits of Tina Turner, Lionel Richie and Kci and Jojo blasting out of the car radio to the bemusement of onlookers. Love ballads from the 90’s are big in Kenya, I dont know why, but its seems like the city is locked into a perpetual world of Richard Mercer’s Love Song Dedications.

Besides gaining a healthy appreciation of ‘African time’, I also observed how different driving is on Nairobi roads. Whereas in Sydney, we would be locked into our cars like a sanctuary from the world outside, Kenyan have their windows down to chat to fellow commuters and passer bys on the street to get news of the situation ahead, to ask to be let in, or scream at not being let in. Verbal communication plays a much greater role on roads full of pot holes, water, and where lanes have no meaning.

So, after passing out a few times in awkward positions and being unable to goto the bathroom (I was glad I hadn’t had a drink before the the ride unlike the other volunteers), somehow we eventually made it to the restaurant at 11pm, closing time.

Total distance: 8.7km, Total time taken: 5 hours