Friday, June 3, 2011

Navigating Nairobi in a small yellow car

It took a long time to find the right car; months of bargaining, mechanical examinations and bullshit. Poor Saed, my mechanic, examined about 20 Rav4s from November last year till Feb this year. Papers were not in order, bits were missing from the engine, one car had different registration details to the details mentioned in the log book-stolen in other words

Anyway, now that I have my lovely car, I am learning to drive on pot holed roads without rules or regulations. No traffic police nor signs nor traffic lights. I am learning the hard way.

The post office in Karen lost my Irish driving licence, which I had sent home to be transferred into an international licence-never never try to do things the right way in Kenya, it only leads to more trouble!

So I decided to sit the Kenyan driving test. How hard can it be, I thought to myself. I had seen how others drive in this city-not great. At night,some people don't bother to turn on their lights and on Fri and Saturday night, most people are drunk and swinging wildly across the road.
One night, when driving on a highway to Thika, a car was driving on the wrong side of the road with no lights! So you could say, that some drivers appear to be drunk, or stoned or both..hard to tell really but there is something wrong with the way people drive here

Anyway, the driving test was in Karen. I got there early because I am a Mzungu and I always forget that none else believes in punctuality. The police man had already assembled some hopefuls.

You will not be be able to bribe anyone here, he says.

I started laughing-no bribes at a Kenyan police station. Was I in the right place?

I managed to get in line after the speech and in I went to the police station, to be tested on British signs which are actually not displayed on any roads I have seen since I moved here 2 years ago.

A cattle sign
cows crossing, I answered eagerly

I had seen Masai warriors taking their cows for a walk on Bagathi road but there wasn't a sign there.

There were several other signs which I did not recognise. This was not going very well

A railway sign- we have them in Ireland but there is only one train that leaves Nairobi for the coast and that isnt anywhere near Karen

Next came the toy car test. He placed a fisher price car in front of me and asked me to drive around a toy roundabout and park ahead of a car he pointed to.

So thinking I was in Kenya, I drove the toy car the reckless way, overtaking on the roundabout and swerving in front of the parked car

There were no matatus on the toy roundabout so rather an easy task, I thought

no- you have failed

Can I get in a real car and show you what I can do?
I have been driving in Ireland for 10 years with no penalty points (only a few parking tickets and and well, that court appearance)

No- you have failed. You need to take some lessons and come back again

How embarrassing- noone fails a Kenyan driving test but I had.

NowI am driving on my Irish licence and with few police on the road, its no problem

Driving around Nairobi, I have noticed how Kenyans like to drive-crazily

On a real actual roundabout, there are traffic lights which do not work . The red light can mean go and the green light, stop so best ignore them.

No-one gives way to the right on roundabouts, so you find yourself stopping halfway as others push past you and then beep at you, because you happen to be following rules of the road

I drive through pedestrian crossings - spotted 2 some time back. If a pedestrian puts a foot on road to signal intent at crossing, it could be swept away

Flashing lights here seems to signal the drivers intent to cross right in front of you. In his way, he is saying 'I'm coming'.

Beeping the horn is reserved for me, I love using it, also the Italian gesture for 'whats your problem'- hand cupped and waved up and down. Some yelling inside the confines of your own car lets off some steam too.

Never leave a space between you and next car unless you want matatus squeezing you up against the missing pavements.

Bigger cars like pushing in front of smaller ones so if you drive a small car, beware. Its survival of the fittest here!

Its a tiresome adventure everytime you get in your car, the wild west..

.and filling up at a petrol station is also amusing.

There is no self service so you sit there and watch carefully as the petrol cap is taken off and hopefully put on again before handing money out the window. A friend of mine had her petrol cap stolen because she was not watching carefully. Damn, you can't relax even there.

Most cars overtake on the left so watch out. Matatus overtake on the left, right, or drive through you. They enjoy driving on footpaths when there is a jam. Its funny to watch but not for the pedestrians who compliantly move away into the flower beds for safety. They don't even appear disgruntled, everyday life here

The traffic police are usually found right outside the station as they have few cars.

On the way to Kilifi airport last weekend, my taxi was stopped by that rare policeman who has left the station in search of money or food for the day.

nina ngoja uje unipe chai

meaning I am waiting for you to return and give me tea

Always a stomach reference here, money related directly to what it feeds

We all laughed at his brazen shameless request and drove on.

Anyway, that's all for now on my adventures in my little yellow car..more later

1 comment:

  1. this is totally hilarious marie, fortunately you had a trick up your sleeve and have started driving on these tedious roads.