What is Nairobi Traffic? What is Nairobi traffic you ask? Well Nairobi Traffic is another planet where time stops in a ridiculous amount of time causing you anxiety, anger, bewilderment and even humor, sometimes. Nairobi traffic is a nightmare, or is it a bad daydream happening as you sit in the car crawling along the way to or from town? It’s crazy and it never ends! Nairobi traffic is like a whole social setting in itself, like a little town. Here you will find all sorts of people, and even businesses. It is somewhat a whole organization in itself created to test your limits of sitting at the same spot sometimes crumpled up like the pellets in an Orbit chewing gum (where’d they go to). If you have ever lived in Nairobi, people never want to leave this city, then you know this is a rite of passage of some sort, being initiated into the murky waters that is traffic in this capital city.
People or is it cars, are always moving it doesn’t matter whether it is 9am in the morning, 1pm in the afternoon which is sometimes the worst time to be on the road, or 7pm at night, you will still be amidst cars, smoke, noise and all sorts of perfumes. Nairobi traffic is just a scene in itself, you can actually just sit inside a café and watch as the snake of cars slowly glide outside the city center. Or you can be in a vehicle and watch outside as the snail paced traffic tries to get to its destination. Either way Nairobi traffic should be a tourist zone.
In the midst of all the confusion that is synonymous with Nairobi traffic, there are various elements that make up this creature of habit. You will never miss one, two or all of these elements whenever you are stuck in the Nairobi traffic nightmare. It has taken me years being stuck in traffic to come to notice these elements of our traffic situation. So I have compiled a list of many if not all of the elements of the famous Nairobi traffic. Here goes the Elements of Nairobi traffic:
Hawkers have found a very lucrative market whenever there is traffic in any area of Nairobi whether it is in the Central Business District (CBD) or highways outside the city center, you will always see hawkers. They sell from art work, fruits, electronics, and car spare parts to clothes and accessories. They have all mastered their craft since you will see them in the middle lane of the traffic then once the cars start moving they are off to the side of the road to wait until it slows down. Hawking in traffic is never easy, you need to be sharp and fast. You have to balance between selling your wares, ensuring you get your change before traffic opens up and sometimes running after a vehicle in case the traffic was opened too fast and you do not have your change. I’m sure some of them have lost their change, while some have gone with their clients change after traffic was let loose. There are plans to try and do away with the traffic situation permanently, if that is done then viable hawking businesses will die and that means more unemployed people on the street. Not a situation I want to imagine
No traffic in Nairobi is ever complete without the presence of the police. You see then in their blue uniform with the illuminating yellow jackets trying to control the traffic. Police try their best but sometimes the motorists are just nightmares to deal with. During traffic the police are sometimes overwhelmed and may just leave the traffic to fend for itself. No traffic is ever truly over without a policeman flagging down a Matatu for overlapping or the occasional taking payment from the drivers. It sometimes always feels unfair when you are stuck in traffic especially at a roundabout and one lane has been released for almost thirsty minutes and your lane is given just a few seconds. You are always almost past the junction when your lane is stopped by police and you literally want to hit the roof.
There was a time during a public transport strike where most people had to find alternate means of getting to work and some had no choice but to walk to work. So we were called the ‘walking nation’. Well, people still walk. Whenever there is traffic in Nairobi, there will always be those who are walking beside the vehicles along the road especially highways. Whether it is by choice or a matter of having no choice, as you sit in that vehicle you will always see people walking either to or from town. Most of them probably reach their destinations before us who are inside cars angrily cursing at why the traffic is not moving.
The personal car owner
Nairobi traffic is never complete without the presence of personal vehicles which are sometimes more than the public transport systems like Buses or Matatus. It is usually a fight between these personal cars and Matatus especially those rowdy ones which act like they own the road. If you are a personal car owner you need to have a tough streak or else you will be bullied by the rowdy Matatus or buses.
There was a time I was stuck in one of highways heading to town when a knock on the window startled me from my daydream. Madam saidia ‘lady, help me out’ a small boy was stretching out his hand while another held onto his blind limping grandmother. You will never miss them, beggars who will knock at your window whether you are in your personal vehicle or a Matatu. Some are pretty violent when you do not give them something or end up insulting you for being a stingy old hag. The beggar has become a part and parcel of Nairobi traffic causing people to have their windows locked up to avoid confrontations with them.
The street urchin
These are worse than beggars, street urchins are usually teenage boys that lurk around street corners especially down town but usually appear whenever there is mad traffic. They usually approach car owners whenever they are looking for parking space. When they see you leaving the traffic lane to find a parking space they will follow you and insist on helping you park then demand for their money. They are violent and carry crude weapons and may even smear you with human feaces if you do not comply. It’s a mad, mad world I tell you.
The pick pocket
There is this roundabout at OTC in down town that is famous for pickpockets. I have witnessed a pickpocket in progress, I was sitting at the back seat of a Nissan Matatu when out of the blue I see a hand inside the open window in front of me, screams follow as a woman yells that her mobile phone has been snatched. It all happened so fast in a split second that my mind could not comprehend that it just happened. So the conductor explained that whenever you see a man lurking near your window be on high alert and if possible make sure the window is closed. The pickpockets usually lean into closed windows pretending that they are squeezing themselves to cross the road. They are slowly sliding the window open slightly with each crossing over the road, once your attention is disrupted they quickly push the already opened window and grab whatever they had been after. And since it is a traffic, they disappear into the crowd or even just walk away knowing you cannot identify them.
When you are sitting inside a Matatu or bus in traffic all you can think of is when you will get to your destination. If it is in the morning you want to get to work as fast as possible to avoid any lectures from the boss. I understand that sometimes you have woken up so early in the morning to get to work, but how do you just sleep in a vehicle so hard and deep that you begin to drool! Simply disgusting, especially when you see a fully suited man sitting near the window head tilted at the back of the chair, mouth wide open and drooling. Seriously, it gets worse if you are sitting next to him and he keeps swinging back and forth or even sideways as the vehicle is jumping over bumps. I hate traffic!
The incessant talker
When I am from town and heading home, I am exhausted and would just like to breath and live through the traffic nightmare. I do not need to be told about the latest politics between ODM and Jubilee. I do not need to know who scored between Manchester United and Arsenal in yesterday’s game. And I certainly do not need to know who was fired because they were caught stealing from the accounts office. So please give me my space and silence, I beg. You will always find the incessant talker in every Matatu or Bus, those who cannot shut up for the life in them, it does not matter whether they know you or not, talk they will and loud enough for the whole vehicle to hear.
I have nothing against preachers, they spread God’s word and speak about hope, most of them anyway, some condemn you that by the time you alight at your destination you are feeling unworthy of pretty much everything. In Nairobi traffic you will always be accosted by preachers who as soon as the vehicle starts moving, will get up and start preaching. And you will be in for the long haul as traffic in Nairobi moves at a slower pace than that of a snail.
The hawker in the bus
Most of the major highways have traffic from here to the end of the world. Whenever there is traffic you will always see hawkers carrying sweets, small juices, and chewing gum waiting for traffic to slow down. As soon as the vehicle stops, they jump in and start their business ‘PK twenty bob’ ‘ Tropicals tatu kumi, mbili tano’ ‘Handkerchief mbao’ they walk along the alley shoving the packets in your face for you to buy, as soon as they are done, they jump from the slowly moving vehicle and into the next, cycle continues again.
It seem that traffic is the best place to sell your wares especially herbal products. Almost every Bus that I get into while slowly going along Jogoo road there is always a salesman selling this herbal product or the latest dawa ya minyooo (tapeworm medicine). One guy that you would not even suspect gets up and introduces himself and which company he comes from then the products he is selling. He will always tell you that he is giving you a half price discount that you will not get ‘huko nje’ (outside) I wonder if these products are real or if they actually do what they say they do.
Drunks are usually on your road trip back home from town especially if you are going home late into the night. They are a nuisance as they will be loud obnoxious and stinking of whatever alcohol they have taken. It is a nightmare if you are sitting next to the drunkard in traffic and the vehicle is silent as a grave save for his or her loud yelling at everyone. All you can think of is that you want to get home and rest from the day’s work yet the drunkard gives you even more headache from his yelling and the smell of his or her foul mouth.
The Kanjo (city county police)
The city council askaris are always lurking in traffic, though some are trying to assist in the smooth flow of the traffic there are those who just want to show that they have the power to let you move or not. Some are just there to try the patience of motorists and will arrest a motorists for no reason just because they can. You will never miss their yellow and green uniform with a baton in hand swinging it as they walk next to traffic waiting for that one mistake that will land you in one of their vehicles.
The road ragers
Every traffic nightmare in Nairobi has its own way of bringing out the ugly in most vehicle drivers. Due to the frustration you will most likely watch as two drivers exchange insults, throwing hands and honking incessantly. I call these the road ragers, they fully embrace road rage as they try to maneuver through the traffic. Junctions and roundabouts are the worst place to be since no one wants to give way, everybody thinks they should be given way so no one listens and everybody yells. It’s completely insane
I’m telling you, gotta love Nairobi traffic and all its scary yet funny elements. When you are stuck in traffic, it helps if the vehicle is blasting some music or you have your earphones on to blot out all other disturbing situations. The more you get mad at the traffic, the more it will not move so just sit and wear out the traffic, being mad won’t make it go any faster.
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