Impatience is Nairobi’s collective affliction

Yes, yes, we are all in a rush. But that does not mean we should all be this harried

PHOTO: GREATDISTANCES.COM

So you are walking in town and you get to one of those zebra crossings which have faded because matatus are forever skidding across them. Even as you stop to do the routine look-right-look-left manoeuvre, you see two of the contraptions racing towards you from one side of the road, dancing around as if their suspensions are made of sisal twine.

Their destination is a traffic gridlock starting right in the middle of one of those yellow boxes Kidero painted a while ago precisely to control them. Of course, for the love of your life, you decide wait for the bespoke jalopies to finish their rat-race before attempting the crossing because, you know, you love your life.

As they rattle past you, gaining centimetres on one another, some fellow sticks the rude nose of his hot-rodded blue Subaru into the yellow rectangle from the adjoining road. Your eye follows the matatus and your ears anticipate the ear-splitting crash as metal hits metal. But somehow, their hinds lifting into the air like the stings of safari ants, they somehow stop millimetres from the Subaru.

As their hinds settle back, the insults buzz out like flies from a rotten mango beside the road. The Subaru guy, sticking his big sunglass-draped face out of his tinted window, finds some ignominious use for his gold ring-studded middle finger. The yellow square is now full. Traffic piles up behind the matatus and the Subaru like a knotted jungle of metal and acrid black mist. Welcome to Nairobi.

Aware that your wait is over, you squeeze your way across the two lanes of traffic, your legs grazing dusty bumpers on both sides. So much for looking right and left. You can see nothing but glass and dangling side mirrors. The road shakes beneath your feet from the bass playing in two of the matatus nearby. You are halfway through when a matatu across the yellow square gains a few centimetres of space and covers it. Every vehicle behind him jolts forward like a set of dominoes.

Your leg twists a bit as the matatu on your upstream side follows the jolt. The driver notices you for the first time and jerks abruptly to a stop mid-jolt. Another insult. The matatu behind him lets out a shrill sequence of hoots as if telling its forerunner, which has brought you within shooting distance of a coffin: “move forward idiot before someone squeezes into those centimetres!” Ridiculousness could not be defined better, you think.

You run across the street, not so much for dear life as out of an earnest desire to not let the poison boiling and roiling inside you by now spill itself onto this callous bunch of buffoons. It is as if the whole world has gone mad and is trying to recruit you into its insanity. But you have a heartfelt intention not to fall into its skittish wiles.

The drama replays a few more times before you get to your office, glancing frantically at your Lorex watch, anxious to not be too late for the client meeting you scheduled for 8.00AM. Luckily, almost by fluke, you are in time. You straighten your cow-tongue tie as you greet the guard and dash into the building, wondering for how much longer you will have to act in the drama of minions which plays out daily in the streets of Nairobi.


This is the second part of Nairobi Rants, a weekly series commenting — in a half serious, half tongue-in-cheek manner — on Nairobi’s more peculiar habits. The idea is that we get to change what we can, not to get entertained, though I hope this will also happen.

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