All motorists in Nairobi know what it feels like to be declared enemies of the state, dangerous beings, renegades if you may, outlaws. The Government has besieged us from all directions; it is closing in on us, squeezing the essence of life out of our souls. Nairobi motorists have heard of the rumours that the people of Kenya are sovereign to the Government. How can we accept these rumours with the reality glaring sternly at us?
My days like most Nairobi motorists’ are marred by tension, nervous shivers, shortness of breath, cold sweats and involuntary muscular twitching. These are the root causes of my unexplained weight loss. One sure way of losing weight with no pills, diets or exercises is taking up motoring in Nairobi. Be warned, however, that the side effects include elevated heart rates, increased blood pressure and soaring stress levels among other negativities.
Every morning, I awake not with soaring spirits at the chirping of birds. No I wake up to the living reality that I am a wanted man. I check and recheck my toothpaste tube to ensure that it does not contain any alcohol. I shun mouth wash as it will surely land me into trouble with the alco-blow wielding Government. I similarly bag my cough syrup and only use it once I arrive at my destination.
After these conscious choices I proceed to pack my office bag. In goes an extra pair of underwear a clean t-shirt, warm trousers, a shawl, a pair of rubber shoes, toothpaste, a toothbrush. I, like all Nairobi motorists have learnt survival skills. I know that I have a ninety eight per cent chance of becoming a guest of the state. This is one invitation that does not require a répondez s’il vous plait. One is obliged to promptly accept. Upon accepting, one never knows the length of their visit especially if the invitation comes on a Friday morning.
My preparation done, I am ready to hit the road. But not before checking that I have enough cash on my person. I drive onto Mombasa Road very alert but panicky. One never knows when the Government is lurking around the corner. As I drive along I notice a traffic snarl up. What now? Oh I see! The Government is on the road. It has erected a Government Teller Machine (GTM). Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Any hesitant motorist will be treated to those three cruel words, “Nimekushika na nitakushitaki!”
On moving closer, I realize that this is not a random flagging down of vehicles. So why this point for an GTM today? I hear the Government speaking angrily, “These dreadful creatures known as motorists have been causing obstruction by overtaking!”
What does that even mean? And How so?
Well, let me put you into perspective. The road construction company had recently diverted the highway to construct an overpass. The overpass complete, they re-opened the highway. However, due to negligence or laziness or lack of funds or all these factors combined, the company only marked three lanes onto the road. They omitted to mark the fourth lane! The extreme left lane now looks like a wide open tarmac field. It can comfortably fit two Lorries driving side by side at a speed of eighty kilometres per hour. We have been driving on this unmarked fourth lane for weeks now. After all, it is a four lane highway, marked or unmarked.
However today things have changed. The Government has decided that these are not two lanes but one huge lane. Anybody seen driving at the far left of this wide lane is immediately flagged down and driving licence confiscated. Those not fortunate enough to dive to safety are netted. My heart is now in my mouth as I struggle to escape. If I am compelled to deposit cash into the GTM at this early stage of my journey I will not have anything to deposit later.
Fortunately I escape unscathed. I sigh with relief as I exit the highway and onto the rough by-pass. At least this route has never been known to host GTM’s. But today I am not lucky. My relief is short lived as the very Government I was evading is standing in front of me and is flagging me down! I turn off my engine and step out of my vehicle. There has been a constant drizzle the night before and the road looks like a freshly ploughed, watered maize farm. My high heels sink deep into the mud as I struggle to fold up my trouser.
“How are you this morning officer?” I ask putting on the most miserable look I can muster and hoping to win his sympathy. My greetings are ignored.
“Madam,” the Government says. “We have mounted an operation here (read GTM) to net unroadworthy vehicles. It is our experience that a number of motorists with unroadworthy vehicles use this road as an escape.”
He now becomes officious and starts barking orders at me. “Put on your head lamps. Okay. Right indicator lights. Okay. Left Indicator lights. Okay. Wipers. Good. Step on the brakes. Okay brake lights working. Put on the reverse gear. Good reverse lights working.”
I secretly picture myself reversing into the Government’s balls and the fantasy is quite satisfying.
He now orders me out of my car and pokes his head into the vehicle. “No radio!” he exclaims tapping the faulty instrument with his baton. “Aha! A torn seat!” he says, tapping again with his baton.
I strain to see the allegedly torn seat. It can barely be said to be a tear as it is a half inch separation in one of the seams of the seat.
Then come the dreaded words, “Nimekushika na nitakushitaki. Constable book this suspect! Defective motor vehicle. No working radio and torn seats.”
“What?” I exclaim in shock. “How does that qualify my vehicle as being defective?”
In the meantime a lorry loaded with sand zooms past us. The driver’s door is hanging precariously while the tailgate looks like it can give way at any time. It makes crazy rickety noises as it bumps along the unpaved road and moves past us lopsided like a drunken giant. The officer ignores the fact that this lorry is obviously unroadworthy.
I try to explain myself out of the situation but I am not able to convince the Government. It has made up its mind. I incense the Government further by pointing out that it has left the lorry to pass by uninspected. After a push and pull lasting not less than twenty minutes I have to part with one thousand shillings to escape the cold, wet, reeking Government accommodation. Don’t judge me as being corrupt as you would do the same thing.
I hit the road again shaken by the encounter. I pray that I arrive at the office free from another encounter with the Government. As I exit the by-pass and turn onto Lang’ata Road I am confronted with a new road sign that was not there the previous day. Speed limit 50KPH. What? Since when?
I struggle to limit my speed to fifty kilometers per hour. This speed is snail slow! How does one drive at fifty kilometers per hour on a newly recarpeted dual carriageway with practically no traffic at that time of the morning? This must be a joke! I drive for almost two kilometers with my foot on the brake and I decide that this is not practical. Am I supposed to drive for ten kilometers like this? Isn’t this damaging my braking system, wearing out my tyres? Did the Government ever carry out a research to discover the safest speeds for such a highway short of banning all motorists from using the road? If it did, what were the results of this research? Why haven’t they shared the results with the general Kenyan public?
As these questions shoot through my mind, a road construction lorry loaded with huge rocks comes hurtling down the road, horn blaring. I have no time to think twice, if I don’t accelerate, the lorry will ram into my rear. I speed up and change lanes and as the lorry whizzes past me, I exit into the deceleration lane and into my work place. Phew!
My day’s productivity has already been compromised. Once in the office I quickly gulp down half the contents of my cough syrup bottle to calm my nerves. Mistake! That’s an overdose. I am drowsy and sluggish the whole morning but in the afternoon I get a slight burst of energy.
However, before I can get any meaningful work done, the reality of my homeward drive hits me. I am gripped with renewed fear. In my panic attack, I spend the rest of the afternoon googling random and useless things. My search history includes phrases like; “top insults against the National Transport and Safety Authority,” “herbalist potions that guard against arrest,” “how to get high on cough syrup,” “how to secretly pay Caesar,” “images of unroadworthy vehicles in Kenya,” “how to tame a dragon,” “how to charm a snake… ”
I can’t stand this stress anymore. I will go and buy a bicycle. But then again there are no cycling lanes in Nairobi.