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driving woes

Driving in Kenya can be hazardous for your health. D claims to enjoy the lawlessness and absurdity of it all, but even during the best of times, there is no denying that driving in Nairobi is a stressful experience. As one Kenyan put it to S, “We’re selfish when it comes to driving. Even if we block off two lanes of traffic to get across an intersection, we’ll do it if we can.” In practice, this means that people frequently play chicken, driving down the middle of the narrow streets, oblivious or indifferent to oncoming traffic. Despite the fact that the roads twist and turn around sharp bends and are just wide enough for a lane of traffic in each direction, there is always someone weaving in and out to find the opportune moment to overtake the car in front, oncoming traffic be damned. And when you get out of the capital, this means that you’re apt to frequently see trucks barreling down your lane towards you as they slowly pass the slightly slower trucks in the oncoming lane.

There are no traffic laws. S claims that there is a law on the books that mandates fining the driver 10,000 KSH (apprx $110) for not stopping at a red light. If such a law exists, it must exist in name only because red lights do not even warrant a suggestive pause. There are no lanes most of the time, just cars butting in left and right, and Kenyan drivers get quite audacious, driving on the sidewalk or curb to cut off a car or two in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Theoretically, whoever enters a roundabout has the right of way. In practice, the right of way goes to whoever has the biggest car and the biggest set of cojones. The trick is to position your car in such a way that the other driver would hit you if he didn’t stop. When you gain that edge, the other driver usually stops, but purposefully placing your car on a collision course every time you want to get through an intersection is a hell of a way to drive.

Night-time driving presents extra fun challenges. About the only way to get drivers to slow down is to pepper the city streets with speed bumps. Of course, none of the bumps are actually marked and given that pretty much everyone refuses to dim their brights, it’s typically too late by the time you realize that a speed bump is coming up. So we find ourselves muttering expletives as we hit the bumps at full speed. At least we got the right kind of car for these streets. We cannot imagine having to navigate Nairobi in a small sedan. Between the crater-sized potholes, the unmarked speed bumps, and the aggressively careless drivers, the clearance and intimidation of a LandCruiser Prado definitely come in handy.

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. Daniel #

    Aggressively careless. Nice phrase! I’m down to play chicken. Sounds like a party!

    July 30, 2011

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