Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Learning to drive.....Nairobi style

Driving in many of our cities is not for the faint of heart. It requires cunning, a good measure of confidence, a truck load of arrogance and a smattering of knowledge of road signs. These virtues will serve you faithfully.
However, none of these are taught at the driving school — you have to learn them on the job.

Cunning is critical on Kenyan roads because few motorists will give you way. The only way to change lanes is to first display amazing disinterest. With precise execution, you will succeed in ‘assuring’ the driver in the next lane that you have no interest in joining his lane. As soon as he lowers his level of alertness, swing your jalopy into his lane. Before he knows it he will be standing on his brakes to avoid repairing your already tattered bumper.

Confidence does not come easy and is, therefore, very hard to portray, especially if you are barely into your third month of repaying your car loan. But without it you will never get to your destination on time. On the tarmac, confidence is essentially your readiness to have your Matilda, Lisa or whatever name your car goes by, barged into by matatus.

Right side
Here, the rule of the thumb is that you must be in the right…er… I mean on the right side of the traffic laws! Occasionally, your car will get dented, but it’s not entirely a bad thing. What would happen to Jaduong’ Onyango of Kasipul Panel Beaters if there were no mishaps on the road? We must keep this economy running by all means necessary!

Now, arrogance on the road is a bit tricky.

It sort of operates like a caste system. You have to know your place on the road and I don’t mean keeping left. Your place here refers to the type of car you drive. If you drive the top of the range cars in town, you are allowed arrogance on the road in stupendous proportions. The reason being that you can repair any car if you are found to be at fault.
In fact, ask any Mercedes or Range Rover driver whether he ever gets bothered by matatus. Never! The matatu drivers are not absolute imbeciles.

Contrary to popular belief, none is stupid enough to take chances with a brand new Mercedes. They know if they hit an expensive car, the only option is to abandon the matatu on the road and take the next bus upcountry.
End of food chain
Of course, if you are at the end of the food chain, it’s unlikely you will have an opportunity to express your arrogance. The victims of your arrogance will be limited to hand cart pushers and cyclists. You cannot be driving a Suzuki Omni van and pretend to take on fuel guzzlers, whether you are racing or jostling for lanes.

It is absolutely necessary to learn all the road signs, so the driving instructor will tell you but not all signs are taught in the few hours one attends theory classes. Time and again drivers will flash you hand signs that were not part of the syllabus, such as the one that involves the middle finger. Now as a seasoned driver, if another driver invites you to such a ‘conversation’ then conventional wisdom dictates that you respond lest you may be adjudged rude according to our African traditions.

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