Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Things I love about Kenya 1 – Everyone is a traffic cop

You are stuck at a junction in Nairobi – an all too-common occurrence in a city where everybody drives as though they have metal spikes bristling from their wheel rims and a turbo-boost button hidden under the dashboard.

Maybe it has been raining, and a matatu (commuter minibus) that tried to undertake on the muddy verge has overturned and is blocking half the road. Perhaps there has been a prang and the car owners are leaning on their bonnets, patiently waiting for the police to arrive. More likely, eight drivers have simultaneously decided they have right of way and are now snuggled up tightly in the middle of the junction, all staring at each other.

There isn't a cop in sight, you have a meeting in 15 minutes and you're wondering if it would be quicker to abandon your car and walk to your destination, all the while cursing the city.

Then, out of nowhere, a citizen traffic cop appears. The self-appointed traffic director beckons and waves, prods and slaps at bonnets, brandishes a newspaper, has a screaming match with a driver, stops to pick his or her nose (unless that too is a signal). Slowly, the traffic begins to move, and you are free. At least until the next junction.

Behind you, the traffic cop blends back into the crowd, seeking no reward. Nobody really knows who this person is: a matatu tout, a security guard, a garage attendant, a cleaner, a teacher. But it is irrelevant.

All that matters is that they are out there. And they are ready.

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