One fine Nairobi morning, I got up and got dressed and left the house to catch my matatu as I have done for every morning the past 6 months. In my suit with the Economist in hand (my friend reckons I possible the only person who reads the Economist in a matatu), I got in the matatu that had very kindly (or so I thought) reversed up my road to pick me up. However, I discovered I was person 18 to be squished into a matatu that should only be seating 14 people. this meant that I had to take a seat on the tout’s lap. Further to this, it was one of those “pimp my ride” matatus with neon strobe lights and an in built subwoofer, which was pumping out the beats to Disney’s Aladdin ” A Whole New World” (yes, I too think the choice of music was slightly bizzare). All this at 6.45am in the morning. It was on this fine morning, that I made the decision that after 6 months of matatu riding, it was finally the time to graduate to a car. And thus starts the next chapter of Astrid’s life in Kenya – the part with the car.
After a month of mentally preparing myself to undertake the seemingly impossible and navigate the mess that is Nairobi’s roads, I finally bought my first ever car, a little silver Toyota (of course, what else would you buy in Kenya) Vitz (or Yaris if you live in Europe). She has been in my life for a week now and has been christened “Little Miss Vitz.”
So after a week of driving, here is what I can tell you about driving in Nairobi:
1. Forget any rules you ever learnt – I ran my first red light on the first day I had my car (and was ravaged by guilt…)
*It has been explained to me that some red lights in Nairobi are “serious red lights” and others are “not so serious red lights.” How you as a drivers is supposed to determine which is which is still a mystery to me. My tactic at the moment – assume they are serious until the honking from behind is so deafening that you are comfortable to assume otherwise.
2. Be authoritative/adopt mild forms of road rage – its a game of chicken, don’t give in first (especially when you are driving a small car like my Little Miss Vitz who commands no authority from her size)
3. Curse at a matatu – it definitely does not make them drive any saner, but can make you feel better
On the note of Matatus, I was compelled to use my horn for the first time today. Usually, I am of the opinion to use horn sparingly (i.e. when you are in a traffic jam, honking violently at the car in front of you is NOT going to make them move any faster). However, today the matatu driver I honked at was just driving unbelievably unacceptably. I felt, on behalf of all drivers of Nairobi, I had to let him not that was not ok, even by matatu standards (should these even exist).