Love & Sex Magazine

First Time Driver in Nairobi

By Miz_odeph

When you have been a long time suffering pedestrian in a city like Nairobi, you really begin to see the value of owning a personal car, self medication (including but not limited to shots of tequila), and the power of prayer.
On those Monday mornings when matatu Saccos decide that there will be a nationwide strike, and you are in the middle of a sulking, shivering crowd watching the clock race past your work log in time, you get to a point where any car sounds like a dream to you, whether it needs special prayers and several hands pushing it to get it started.
You get to a point when even owning a car so rusty and creaky that it might possibly infect any other car within sniffing distance with tetanus doesn’t look like a completely insane idea. You even start having these daydreams as you commute. Daydreams are a valuable asset for any Nairobi commuter who wishes not to commit capital crime. They completely derail you from the rising tides of nausea that may assail you when you sit beside a passenger who has declared war on deodorant and soap especially during the rainy season. The rainy season specifically, because you may always have the kind of luck that means you will find yourself seated next to the person who fights for the window seat only to spend the entire trip keeping it sealed shut as if Satan himself paid them to suffocate everybody. At this point, a nice daydream involving a beach in the middle of nowhere can come in handy.
Daydreams are also quite useful when you live two matatu trips away from your workplace using two monstrous roads such as Jogoo rd and Mombasa road. On one trip, you encounter a very happy preacher who defines irony for you by standing under a clear sign that says “no hawking or preaching”. He proceeds to fill your ears with all the reasons you will burn in eternal damnation and why your marriage is failing and why you should hand over all your cash to his wheel-filled ministry. I would like to say that no amount of daydreaming can save you from an overzealous bus preacher. This kind of problem can only be solved by Beats by Dre earphones, not to be confused by their River Road cousins, ‘beets by dray’. Those ones will only give you an ear infection, and will fail two days later and leave you at the mercy of mchungaji wa basi. On your second trip, you will sit next to someone who takes their nutrition very seriously and they will occupy their own seat, plus three quarters of yours. Daydreaming may slightly help here, but I cannot promise that thoughts of suicide will not cross your mind.
Therefore, after years of gritting your teeth, dodging rain puddles and employing the two-shoe method during the rainy season to ensure you arrive at work mud free, you finally get a car. The car is fairly decent and does not creak, croak or threaten the safety of other cars but you quickly discover that driving in the city of Nairobi will still require a similar formula –self medication, prayer, and skin so thick it will make a crocodile cry.
The initial excitement of handling a log book, (which is really a flimsy orange-ish piece of paper that means the bank owns you for a while if you are mildly middle class like most of us) will be sufficiently killed off by the welcoming committee on the road. The hooters.
Do not for a second think that the bright shiny red letter L stickers that you put on your windscreen will insulate you from the always rushed drivers on Nairobi highways, no no no. In fact, I can guarantee you that those stickers will attract even more angry hooting and annoyance from both personal cars and matatus.
If you are lucky, on your first day on the road you will discover that traffic rules mainly apply in driving school and on a safe little planet called Utopia. You will be hooted at so many times, you may be able to make a song out of it. Once or twice, your own car will join the team and you may find yourself heading into ditches like a mad person.
You will also discover just how much pedestrians believe in car brakes on the highway. You will learn that you own cat reflexes which you will need to employ at bus stops, where matatus will swoosh into the road with no regard with oncoming traffic, and that pedestrians have super running powers and will always insist on trying them as close to the foot bridge as possible.
You will be terrified to have the car radio on, because you are sure that the music somehow confuses your neurons as you drive. Why else is there so much hooting? If you are a woman, you will quickly realize how little people think of women drivers, including other women. Then, when you drive at night, you will find out that almost every Kenyan on the road is a bat, and your eyes will continuously be molested by full beam lights on either side of the highway.
Within your first week of driving, you may crash into someone else’s car and learn new vocabulary in the form of insults. You will discover why a good mechanic is more valuable than a diamond, and one day, as you sit in traffic sandwiched between two giant fuel tankers, you will watch a matatu whooshing past on an illegal lane and before you know it, you will find yourself envying the passengers.


Originally written  for Weekend Star

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