THIS IS HOW YOU SURVIVE KENYAN ROADS: The Bradford from Sweden Series (I)

DEAR Bradford,

It is just as well you texted, pointing out that a month has gone past since the press conference. You also said you are still alive –and would like to stay that way. That is good to hear.

In fact, when you told me that our roads have attempted to murder you five times in a span of two months, I thought you were throwing around some Swedish humour. That is why after you asked if there is a special school one needed to enrol into to learn driving on our roads, I referred you to the ‘school of experience’.

Actually, I was offended when instead of laughing at my joke, you smirked your lips and requested that I email you some survival tips “because you love driving but hate dying”. I thought that was really rude of you. But forgive me my friend, I thought you were kidding.

Unfortunately, I won’t tell you how to survive on our roads. Even us haven’t fully figured that part out –just look at statistics. But I will tell you how to blend in so that in the event you crash and tap out, you will do so like a local.

So, to answer your rhetoric question from last month, yes, we do have some pretty good traffic laws in this country. However, we seem to derive more pleasure –and mad pain sometimes– breaking them. That’s us. Peculiar like that. And since you won’t beat us, join us. It’s easy.

For example, you have seen these huge circles on junctions. I don’t know if you have them in Sweden. They are called roundabouts and are borrowed from the Brits. They are meant to make exchange of traffic between intersecting roads seamless.

If you look above them, you will notice those newfangled, coloured bulbs other countries use to manage traffic.

Trouble is, ours don’t work so well. Even their toy replicas have failed many an aspiring drivers during tests. That, and an emptiness of pocket.

Anyways, you will also notice blokes in blue shirts and white caps gesticulating in the same circles. No, no… they are not chefs. Those are our traffic cops and I think their uniform is pretty cool.

If you look above them, you will notice those newfangled, coloured bulbs other countries use to manage traffic. Ignore them. We just find them fascinating, the colours, that is. They also make our roads look sophisticated —plus someone made some money in the whole process of acquiring and installing them and that’s important for the economy, I think. They are more aesthetic than functional.

That is why the chefs cops will overrule the coloured strobes without losing an onion (sorry, I’m hungry). In fact, the cop is the only thing to fear on the roundabout —and the matatu, of course, but we’ll get to that one later. Whatever colour the bulbs are, it is go, unless the cop has said otherwise!

You will know when they do, don’t worry.

The raised hand is quite standard. But also look out for the ‘cop-blocking-traffic’ maneuver. This is when the seemingly bored officer will be standing on the middle of the road, his back to you and possibly texting, WhatsApping or playing Snake on his 3310.

He will occasionally raise his head to wave vehicles on the other roads apart from yours through, or take a swipe at an offending motorcyclist with his baton.

Cop might keep your road waiting for several decades, –which happens a lot if you are in a hurry. But however deep your impatience, get your palm off that honk.

The crew can be nasty, especially once they decide your accent isn’t sourced from any of our 43 tribes.

Otherwise, by the time they let you leave the roadside detention, you will have gotten such an in-depth diagnosis of the faults with your car you will be wondering how it is even able to honk.

Just swallow the lump and watch the officer. Eventually, he will step to the side. That will be your cue to screech off. Shove your way through before the honks of impatience from behind blare your hearing back to Scandinavia (is that a true country anyways?).

Back to matatus. They are our means of moving the masses and they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and sounds. Whatever, you do, do not get into an accident with one, unless there is a cop around. The crew can be nasty, especially once they decide your accent isn’t sourced from any of our 43 tribes.

If your documents are in order and you are certain the other fellow was on the wrong, then don’t panic since this isn’t Nigeria. Those laws I mentioned earlier work (most times anyways). But the best way out of a painful mess is to avoid getting into it in the first place.

But if matatus will put the terror of Satan in you, wait till you meet their smaller, two-wheeled relatives aptly called boda boda. Most of them are driven by self-trained daredevils with an attitude from hell.

It will not be racist to wonder if the rider’s brain is stuffed in one of the two helmets strapped on top of his fuel tank as he weaves through the murderous Mombasa Road traffic at a speed that would happily turn him into mincemeat. We, too, are always having similar thoughts.

If they are not overtaking from your blind side, they will be driving against traffic or leisurely crawling in the middle of the overtake (right hand) lane.

Again, swallow the lump, find your way around, and leave everything to Karma. She is indeed a female dog, and sooner or later, she gets them. A dedicated ward in every major hospital for them is proof that ‘female dogs’ suck at forgiving –or forgetting.

We are hoping the no-nonsense Interior CS will find a way to return dignity to the motorcycle like he did the ‘A’ in our national secondary schools examination. I have a feeling you have no friggin clue what I am going on about there, but I said it.

Away from the home-grown road terrorists, you will also discover that headlights are, but, some glassy gadgets we use to illuminate whichever place they happen to be pointing.

Don’t bother your fingers flashing the bugger driving towards you with one light beaming the heavens and the other your face. He will be too preoccupied with trying to survive the darkness he is squinting into to notice you.

A little murder…

But if you are in a deadly mood, you can offload your high beam on him as well. It should teach the bugger to fix his lights –not really! It will most likely take away the little vision he had left, then he will probably crash into a stationery lorry and die.

In any case, most vehicles have that squint-eye and yet we survive the night rides (sometimes we don’t).

However, you will also find many cars with perfectly functioning headlights, but driven by blokes not bothered with the confounded dim knob.

Doesn’t matter that the crucial feature is a strategic finger-stretch away from blinding some unlucky fellow into one of the hungry trenches lining our roads.

And while still dealing with night times, do not assume that the single headlight approaching from the oncoming lane is a motorcycle and decide to overtake. You might discover, too late, that it is a 10-ton garbage truck using a hand-held, battery-powered torch for lighting.

It might also turn out to be two motorcycles, one with a broken headlamp, transporting a sofa between them. Either way, you will be properly screwed (forgive the language).

Do not also be surprised if you find the unlit dump truck crawling on the right-hand lane of the one-way highway half-masked in diesel smoke.

At the same time, a trailer truck may be attempting to overtake the mobile garbage from the other lane, but since the lorry’s crew added a ton or two of illegal transit load after the weighbridge, the horses in the engine just can’t muster enough kick to complete the pass.

So you are stuck behind this painful symphony for a very long five minutes. What you can do is… nothing much really!

Just roll up the windows and turn on your air conditioning (re-circulation mode, very important) because those dumpsters throw a stench you can touch. And keep your distance too!

With no warning lights whatsoever, you will never know when the trash gets to stop. You do not want to crash into one of these things for very, very obvious reasons.

In summary, my friend, a lot of things do not work the way they are designed to on our roads. You won’t change that.

My advice, adapt. Otherwise, stay in Europe, or America and come over as a tourist. Our animals need your visits.


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  1. Peter

    8th Jun 2018 - 8:48 am

    Well thought,properly put. And the cat guys or the mkokoteni guys?

  2. Kimathi Mutegi

    8th Jun 2018 - 10:52 pm

    Thanks Peter…will mention them to guy next time.

  3. Leonard

    9th Jun 2018 - 1:41 pm

    great writing, you really made my day thanks,

  4. Kimathi Mutegi

    9th Jun 2018 - 4:45 pm

    Karibu sana Leonard…and thanks too

  5. Janet Okinda

    9th Jun 2018 - 10:54 pm

    Awesome read. Give us some more please

  6. Ruphus

    9th Jun 2018 - 11:28 pm

    eti female dogs eh eh …issa gem

  7. Kimathi Mutegi

    9th Jun 2018 - 11:29 pm

    Thanks Janet…more on the way

  8. Kimathi Mutegi

    9th Jun 2018 - 11:31 pm

    Danke schön Ruphus

  9. Karimi

    10th Jun 2018 - 9:26 pm

    Great piece.

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