Gosh! It has been over a week and I still haven’t blogged. Am I losing it? This blogging thing is like a second career and I’m worried I’ll start to lose readers. Please if you still read, leave a comment 🙂
A humble silver Passo, like Bella
It has been three months since I took Bella on the road. On the very first day after getting my interim driving license, I took the car out for a test drive. I managed to hit a stationary matatu and discovered that my car, after all, is not made of mabati but fiberglass. The front side plate crumbled like a wrinkled newspaper, while the matatu’s body made of reinforced mabati got away with some flecks of paint. See, the matatu braked suddenly in front of me on Waiyaki Way, stopping to pick up passengers. It was at night and the guy behind me was hooting impatiently for me to switch lanes, which I did without realizing that I was too close to the matatu. And then it happened.
Since then I have had no scrapes with another matatu, but of course I now watch out for matatus and avoid the (outer) lanes if I can. I have been inducted into the maniacal driving and road rage that characterizes the average Nairobi driver. I have never seen such aggressiveness, oh wait perhaps I have. You know how you scramble to get into a bus at the crowded Ambassador stage during rush hour? Men elbowing women and children aside and climbing on board? That is the same energy on the roads. Nobody gives way, if you sit there demurely indicating your desire to change lanes, the drivers on the other side go out of their way to block you. In Nairobi, nobody gives you way, you have to take it. Unsmiling, unblinking you put the nose (head) of your car into the other lane so much that the other driver either has to hit you or give way. And you apologetically zoom past without so much as a honk in appreciation because he/she would have hit you had they not braked suddenly.
As a Nairobi driver, you come to realize speed limits are for learners. The learners with a red ‘L’ prominently stuck on their front or rear windscreen or both. I had the L stickers for a while, but realized that most people hooted at me even as I slowed down to avoid plunging into a pothole. The other drivers will overtake you even at a sharp corner because you have ‘L’, they assume you fear speed. It’s even worse if it’s L and a small car.
L is for Lunatic. Watch out for them. Hoot at the them, overtake them. But do not get too close, they will panic and crash into you.
Sometimes the L has its advantages; for instance I once used the wrong lane at a roundabout and the traffic police let me go with a warning. Other times it works against you. I was stopped my an army guy in Upperhill. I politely parked on the side. I was with a colleague from work. The soldier came over and asked me:
“Do you have a license?”
“Yes, I have an interim license.”
“Okay, hmm.. and who is this?” meaning my colleague.
“My colleague from work.”
“Does he have a license?” Where is this heading, I wonder. I told him (the soldier) he does, but he doesn’t have it on him at the moment.
“How will I know he is a valid driver?” he asks.
“But I am the one driving. I have my interim license with me.” I am puzzled.
“You know, when you have this sign “- he indicates the L stickers, “you’re not supposed to carry passengers. It’s in the highway code. If you carry a passenger it should be someone with a valid driver’s license.”
I have never seen a copy of the highway code, but we learned some of the rules in driving schools. I can’t challenge him as I’ve not read it. I wonder what it says about student drivers (who have a provisional license) and someone like me, who has already passed the driving test and is just waiting for the driving license. You’re issued an interim license while you wait for the driving license to be processed.
“Now how can I help you?” asks the soldier. We stare at him in silence. He finally lets us go but says next time we should carry our licenses.
Later that week, I picked up some relatives from a section of town many drivers dare not venture into. It’s at the end of Ronald Ngala St. where Githurai Paradiso buses block the road and reverse blindly. I used racecourse road, my heart racing, as I battled for space on the road with the green Mwi Sacco buses. When I got home, I yanked the stickers off. I had survived the worst.
So now I drive with the cocky confidence of a Nairobi driver; as if the world should give way for me and I honk at matatus that stop in the middle of the road to pick/drop passengers. I am as aggressive as I can be, especially when changing lanes. I screw my face into a mean expression so that a pedestrian jaywalking knows I mean business (although pedestrians cross the road without bothering to look at the traffic! Their arrogance…). I flash my lights as a warning against anyone attempting anything foolish e.g. blocking me. I brake only if I have to. I ignore speed limits and blaze through the roundabout at speeds that can impress a matatu driver. I only obey traffic laws if there’s a cop that might be waiting in the wings, ready to swoop down for a bribe. I park anywhere as long as I can get away with it. I play cat and mouse games with the city cancel parking askaris especially if I am not staying in one spot for the whole day. I hoot at anyone with an L sticker and overtake them. I go out of my way to block anyone attempting to change lanes into the one I’m in.
Did you actually think I do all those things? Haha no! That is just the typical behaviour I have to put up with on our roads. Sometimes I give way gracefully, and sometimes other drivers give me way, though most of course, will block me. I honk or put out my hand out of the window to wave my appreciation. I follow traffic rules and I keep telling myself, easy with the aggression, and road rage. I should not let an uncouth guy get the best of my morning, and even if the traffic is already making me late for work I shall not wear a face that looks like I’ve sucked lemons for breakfast. Nairobi’s traffic jams are epic but I don’t let them get on my temper. I put on my music and read my novel. In traffic. It can be that bad.
While we are on this subject of cars, I think the worst drivers are not actually matatu drivers, but men in big cars. In my experience, they are the ones who never give way. Their windows are all rolled up and their noses turned in the air. “Please look at me in my big car, how can I give way to mere mortals in tiny cars?” Anyway I always console myself that they are compensating that aggression for something they lack, e.g. bedroom skills or talent. Mostly I imagine they are poor in bed thus have to bully their way to get some sense of worth.
I have finally come to the realization that it is wonderful having a car. But I hate driving in Nairobi city’s streets and on its highways. I can’t however, hire a driver for a Toyota Passo. In any case, the rear seat is less comfortable than the driver’s seat!
A Range Rover Sport
When Bella grows up into a Range Rover, or perhaps she’ll be a Toyota Land Cruiser V8, I shall get a chauffer. Till then, I shall bear the bad roads and bad manners of other drivers with good grace.
Someone get me this Landcruiser please!