You don’t have to try and imagine what would result if four roads meet and cross and there are no rules. It happens throughout the day outside the YaYa Centre Shopping Mall in the city of Nairobi.
A traffic policeman hovers on the brink, and steps in when the tangle of vehicles comes to a complete standstill. It is a miracle that more accidents don’t happen. I suspect that many minor brushes of paint and fender occur without due record. But as my holiday progresses, do I discern a distinct wariness growing among the drivers? Less of a rude push-in and impetuous grab of a few feet of empty road – unless it is a matatu, of course; or if the policeman is out of site.
The President has recently directed that traffic lights are to be installed at all roundabouts. I hear the sceptics ask what difference will that make, as drivers already ignore lights with impunity.
Dust is another hazard. This is the “road” under construction from the main Nairobi/Nakuru highway to Green Park on the north side of Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley. I have been warned. If I go too slowly, my dust catches up with me. When a vehicle passes from the opposite direction, I have to stop because I can’t see beyond the bonnet of my car. But the road gradually improves as I progress round the top end of the Lake, and ends in gleaming new tarmac as it meets the old escarpment road back to Nairobi.
By the way, a talented Kenyan writer, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, has written an award-winning book entitled “Dust”. It is an excellent read. You can read my review of it HERE on my website page.
On another day, while on my way to lunch with a friend, I have time to spare, so I pop up to Karen dukas to post cards to the grandchildren. I pass the free car park before I realise it, so I turn into the old road to the main stores and am confronted by a No Entry sign. To my right are several empty parking slots outside the Co-op Bank, so I swing in there.
A quick glance round. No notices to say I have to pay. I lock the car and try to remember where the post office is. I hear a shout, and a couple of men call out as I wander towards the provision stores. Studiously ignoring the commotion, and convinced it is some sort of deliberate distraction, I clutch my bag tighter to my side, and catch sight of the post office. Ten minutes later I return to the car and notice a bright yellow clamp on the front wheel.
I look round. Nob0dy is taking any notice. A man loiters on the steps above me.
“Where do I go for this?” I ask, pointing at the wheel of my car. I look at my watch. In the dim and distant past on the one and only other occasion I’d been clamped, I remember wasting hours with Council officials before my car was released.
He gestures casually towards an elderly woman in a bright yellow jacket sitting under an umbrella. She studiously ignores me as she fingers through some papers.
I approach her, but she forestalls me. “You ignored me – didn’t you see me standing right by you?”
The angry tirade makes me step back.
“I called out to you when you got out of the car, then told those people to stop you!”
“You have to pay me Shs. 2,000/-!”
“ – I thought those men were trying to harrass me…”
“What is your phone number? You must pay me.”
“I am a wageni here; a visitor. I did not know I had to pay – there are no notices!”
She repeats herself, shouting me down. “You’re no wageni. Your Swahili is too good.”
“I am a visitor. I left Kenya more than ten years ago.”
She does not look me in the eye.
In exasperation I fumble in my purse for two 1,000/- notes.
“I want your phone number,” she says, bringing out her mobile.
Then I realise…
“I know nothing about paying by phone,” I retort; “I don’t use Mpesa.”
I put 2,000/- on her table.
“It’s 2,300/-“ she says. “You have to pay the parking fee. What is your phone number?”
I only have a 500/- note.
“I need the change.”
The man standing by steps up to my elbow.
“She needs your phone number to send you the receipt,” he explains.
I have a hopeless memory for numbers, and can never find my own number from my mobile. I fish out my diary and show her my new sim card number, which I have written on the front page.
She copies it onto her phone and walks away, turning back to shout at me. “I’m going to get your change!”
I lean over the railings, watching her cross the road towards another yellow-coated woman.
“She’s kali sana,” I say to the man at my side. He nods, agreeing that the old mama is indeed very fierce.
I look at my watch. “Now, I’m going to be late.”
“Make sure you ask to see the receipt on her phone,” he says, as she comes back.
I do not bother to be polite any more.
“Let me see your receipt,” I demand as she hands me the 200/- change. I make a show of looking at the phone, which I cannot read in the bright sun.
“I’ll text you the receipt,” she explains over her shoulder as she goes to unlock the clamp. “We do not use paper anymore.”
I do not deign to look at the woman as I enter my car and reverse out. But later on, I do receive a receipt on my phone.
There’s plenty to moan about in Kenya: corruption, the drought, the traffic, and now the dreadful Al Shabaab have reared their ugly head yet again, this time in Garissa; a town consisting mainly of Somali people; a speck in the desert on the long eastern border with Somalia – which has always been a thorn in the side.
Kenya – my heart bleeds for you. It is a fine line you have to tread on this new frontier in the global war against terrorism. You cannot stand alone, and yet the majority of your well-wishers have no true idea of the vastness of your country and the immensity of its problems. As you have done in the past, you will pull together.
To my family and friends, and friends of friends – to all the people in Kenya – my thoughts and prayers are with you.
It is so easy to maintain a dismal outlook – but it is Good Friday after all, and things can only get better …
… See you again next week – and have a peaceful Easter weekend.