When a Kenyan living in the West, returns home after over 10 years away and insists on driving on Kenyan roads, simply because they acquired an International driving license, I advise them to curb their enthusiasm. I also inquire about the status of their life insurance and medical cover and whether they have a will wriiten. A driver’s license, will not prepare the outsider for the reality of Kenyan roads. Nairobi’s matatu drivers, for a start, will have even the calmest of drivers radicalised and angst-ridden behind the wheel in under two weeks. A driver’s license is only the beginning of a clattered history of near misses, constant bullying from reckless matatus, aggressive miraa-stocked truck drivers, rush hour grinds, petty cops, and thieving street kids.
So here are 12 things you are sure to encounter once you get behind a wheel in Nairobi.
- One thing you discover is that all the road signs they forced you to memorize in driving school are nowhere to be found. Road signage in Kenya is an afterthought. It is hard enough marking the road and therefore whining about adequate signage is a clear sign of naivety. You are advised to use common sense instead and if that fails, take a wild guess. If it is suddenly brought to your attention by a stream of cars honking, that you are driving in the wrong direction of a road that was converted to a one way street, start reversing until you find a spot to let the oncoming traffic squeeze past before continuing with the original course undeterred.
- If you are ever unable to locate an empty parking spot in the city, park on the road. As long as you are seated in the car, your newfound position is justified. City council parking attendants are open to negotiation and the only ones you have to worry about are the clamping crew. Ignore impatient the drivers who take issue with your parking spot. You are not the cause of their grief. They just venting out their frustrations on the non-preforming Nairobi governor and you happen to be an easy target.
- New smooth highways and speed bumps are joined at the hip like Siamese twins. The newer and smoother the highway, the more speed bumps you will encounter. Most speed bumps will appear unceremoniously and in unlikely places like at the top of an acceleration lane. They are designed to wreck your vehicle if you hit them at speed and leave a lasting memory. After a few abrupt braking encounters, you will never forget their location.
- Traffic policeman are toll collectors and appear to be infatuated by petty offenders. They will profile drivers based how they feel that morning, flag you down at the last instance just for kicks and find fault with your driving, vehicle or attitude. It is never personal. Take the lecture, address them as officer or mkubwa, pay the spot fine for convenience and find an alternative route around a notorious police roadblock.
- No one obeys the speed limits in the designated speed zones. Kenyans drive like maniacs on highways and overtake on blindspots because people have places to be. Therefore when you find the odd occurrence of matatus and 4X4 guzzlers observing a speed limit, in a 50km zone, rest reassured that NTSA (National Transport and Safety Authority) guys are lurking about ready to pounce on offenders.
- Traffic lights should not be taken literally. Red does not always mean stop and green does not necessarily mean go. Not even traffic policemen pay attention to the traffic lights. As a general rule, never ever stop at a red light at night unless you want to buy a newspaper.
- Remember that directional indicators are overrated. To get other drivers to notice you, pop your head out of the window and plead whilst pointing towards the direction you are headed. Other drivers will appreciate the gesture and give you way.
- Learn to change lanes spontaneously especially when approaching a roundabout. No matter how well you plan your course some matatu will be on the wrong lane, switching back and forth to jump the queue. The most important thing to remember about roundabouts and junctions is first in, first out. The sooner you get out of the mess, the better.
- In the few instances, where road manners are observed, stay in line but in a chaotic traffic situation, playing nice is futile. Never give way to over-lappers for they are generally bastards who must be put back in line. It’s a jungle out there and they are no medals for courtesy, just clogged traffic.
- If you get involved in a small collision especially with a matatu, do not move from the spot until the policemen arrive. It is in your best interest to create a massive traffic jam. You will be abused, threatened and end up annoying a lot of motorists but it is the quickest way to attract a traffic policeman to your rescue.
- Highways are great for street bargains. Evening traffic jams are a good spot to catch up on essential items such as mosquito zappers, a fake mahogany walking stick and fresh fruit. When driver behind you honks as you stall traffic, point a finger to your head and twist it in manner that suggests that they must have a loose nut in theirs to pass up on such a great bargain.
- If you sniff a whiff of rain, panic. The drainage on Kenyan roads are a rumour. Bolt for your car and drive to a traffic jam near you. There is safety in numbers.
From the Mantalk archives #ThrowbackThursday