How to successfully settle in Kenya: Part 1. The roads

How to successfully settle in Kenya: Part 1. The roads

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I met this mzungu at a function the other day. Scott is his name. Said he came for a visit and fell in love with this here country. Now, he wants to settle. He needed to know how best to gel in. Help me out, who are we? What are we? I try to walk Scott —and other Scotts who would wish to relocate to this awesome nation—into becoming proper, thoroughbred Kenyans. By the time we are through, these Scotts will be shouting “haki yetu” in the streets and singing circumcision songs as they stagger home from MCeeing a ruracio somewhere in Nyeri and drowning in litres of muratina. While at it, let’s listen to that song, Jambo Kenya by Fadhili Williams here:


Let me first address the American —and a horde of other European nationals. GET OFF THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD NOW! We drive on the left here. That was close, but welcome to Kenya. It is a lovely country, really it is. In fact, it is one of the best places to be in the world. But our roads might will take some getting used to. They will kill you if you don’t do it fast. For example, when you approach these huge circles around junctions, do not panic. They are called roundabouts and were borrowed from the Brits. 

They are supposed to control the exchange of traffic between roads. Their toy replicas have failed many aspiring drivers during driving tests. That and an emptiness of pocket. However, you will also notice blokes in blue shirts and white caps gesticulating in the same area. No, no… they are not chefs. Those are our traffic cops and I actually think their uniform is cool. If you look above them, you will notice those newfangled coloured bulbs you fellows use to manage traffic in your countries. Ignore them. We just find them fascinating, the colours, that is. They also make our roads look sophisticated —and that is all.

That is why the chefs cops will overrule them without losing an onion (sorry, I’m hungry). In fact, the cop is the only thing to fear on the junction —and the matatu, of course, but we’ll get to that one later. Whatever colour the strobes are, it is go! So just shove your way through before the honks of impatience behind blare your hearing ability back to Scandinavia (is that a true country anyways?).

Back to matatus. They are our means of moving the masses around and they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and sounds. These are things you love to hate and we’ll have to dedicate a session on them. For now, just avoid them if you are motoring. Give them way, spare your horn and you will motor around in peace.

Whatever, you do, do not get into an accident with them, unless there is a cop around. They are nasty, especially if they sense naivety. You will find yourself swarmed in an ocean of maroon and blue uniforms and trust me, they can be intimidating. Before the cops arrive, they will have put the fear of devil in you, so much so you might pay for the damage and inconvenience, only to discover later you were actually the one wronged. Just avoid confrontations with these folks. It won’t end well.

Go fighting with matatus and they might just lie on you…very mean things…

Anyways, you will also discover that on our roads, headlights are, well, just some gadgets you use in whichever form or way. Don’t bother flashing the burger hurtling towards you with one light beaming the heavens and the other right in your face. You will get a wave of hand back because he will think you are saying ‘hi’. Most vehicles have that squint-eye and yet we survive the night rides (sometimes we don’t).

And whatever you do, do not assume that the single light approaching is a motorcycle and decide to pull that overtake manouvre. You might discover too late that it is a 10-ton dump truck using a torch for lighting. It might also turn out to be two motorcycles transporting a wardrobe between them, one of them having a broken light. Either way, you will be properly screwed (forgive my language).

You don’t want to crash into this, yeah?

And since we established that this here is a left-drive country, you will naturally expect the right lane to be the fast or overtake one. It is. Just doesn’t work. Don’t be surprised if you find the earlier dump truck, with no backlights and masked in diesel smoke crawling along on the right lane at three kilometres an hour. On the left, a trailer might be attempting an overtake and you will be stuck behind this mobile garbage for a very long five minutes. What you can do is… nothing really.

Just shut the windows and put on your air conditioning because those dumpsters stink. And keep your distance! With no warning lights whatsoever, you will never know when they are stopped. You do not want to crash into one of these things for very, very obvious reasons. In summary, a lot of things do not work the way they are designed to on our roads. You won’t change that. My advise, adapt. Otherwise, stay in Europe, or America and come over as a tourist. Our animals need your visits.

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