On March 26th I wrote the first part of this story. You can check that out here if you would like.
Although I am certainly not a driving expert I will say I’ve had a fairly easy time learning how to drive on the other side of the road. The difficult thing at first was just getting used to judging the distance I was from things from the drivers seat. The side of the road seemed so far away and the middle of the road, where I was sitting, just didn’t look or feel right at first. The first dozen or more times I drove began with prayer and more than a little apprehension. I have certainly become more cautious the older I’ve gotten, one of the few things I think that is good about getting older. The truth is I just woke up one morning and it just felt natural. The human brain is pretty spectacular.
So once I felt good about all of that it was on to navigating some of the other things you have to know to drive in Kenya. I’ll list a few here:
- Matatus – These are mini-buses that many people use to get around in and around Kenya. Without them people would really struggle to get to work or church or anywhere. However, they are run but private enterprises and not publicly run. Because of this there is a a lot of pressure for them to pick up as many people at possible so they are always in a race with each other and all the other traffic to get to the next stop and pick up more paying customers. I would say they cause a large portion of the problems on the roads in Nairobi. If there is any room at all they are going to pull out, pass, or run you down. The good thing is you absolutely know they are going to drive crazy, so they are easy to predict.
- Boda Boda – These are motorcycles that people also use to get around. From what I have experienced the Boda Boda drivers attempt to never stop under any circumstances. They zoom around traffic, through intersections, and never pay attentions to street lights. But in their defense there is only one street light I ever see anyone pay attention to and it’s in front on the UN. It also doesn’t work half the time. I have seen more than one dead Boda Boda driver in the road, it’s a dangerous way to make a living. You can also get anything delivered by boda boda, I have seen a lawnmower, a family of four including an infant, 15 chicken coops, 4 tires, another motorcycle, and most impressively a couch. These guys are good!
- The Roads Themselves – Bronwyn and I live in a nice neighborhood with street lights and even guards who can close off the streets. However just a few yards from our house the road turns to gravel and just a little past that dirt. The potholes here are no joke, there are times when it feels like driving through a road that was bombed. Sometimes at night I try to get behind someone who looks like they know the rout through the minefield of holes and just follow them through. The worst still is after a rain when they are full of water and you have no idea how deep they are.
- Traffic – Getting places in Nairobi can be extremely unpredictable. Our office is less than 5 miles away and we have gotten there in about 20 minutes. However, it has also taken us an hour and a half. Most of the time it takes about 45 minutes but the places that slow us down change. It’s competently unpredictable. We can leave the house at 8am or 10am or afternoon and it does not matter. It could be an easy drive or it could be a traffic snarl beyond anything you can imagine. There is no predicting it! If someone is taking their cart of potatoes to the market then traffic moves at the speed of a potato cart. If cows are being taken to market and it’s over a bridge then traffic moves at the speed of cows on a bridge. The biggest issue is there just are way more people and cars than the current infrastructure can manage. There really isn’t much you can do but prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
- Danger – Whenever we go anywhere we make sure to remember to lock all the doors. But that’s true of any large city, the only real issue here is someone may reach in and snatch your phone or groceries or something. Next you have to drive both offensively and defensively all the time. If there is a crack in traffic and you need to go you just take it. Everyone is pretty much expecting you to and acts accordingly. Aggressive driving is the only way to get anywhere, but you also have to constantly be on the lookout for all the things I mentioned above. It actually has it’s advantages, I think a lot of wrecks happen in the US because people get complacent and stop paying attention. That’s not something you can do here. All in all though it’s pretty safe. There isn’t really road rage, people just kind of accept this is how it is.
I’m sure at some point I’ll have a Driving in Kenya Part 3, I could probably make almost as many as there are “Fast and Furious” movies. But for now know that we are perfectly safe on the roads here and confident in our ability to get around.