By our Nairobi-based editor-at-large, Jackson Biko
It’s raining as I write this. In Africa rain brings happiness and blessing, and in some parts it means someone can finally have a bath. But in Nairobi, it also brings mayhem, anguish and frustrations. Rain exposes the greedy hands of city planners who pocketed drainage money because everything turns into a flood. You may as well budget for a canoe. And an oar. Or turn your car into one (a canoe, that is, not an oar). Because when the rains come anything that can float will float. Drifting past your car window you see a sea of drenched humanity: dead logs, twigs, a shoe, umbrellas torn from hands and the jaded look of city dwellers who just want to get home.
They said El Nino was going to come again. El Nino is like the Government Inspector. You remember the Government Inspector, don’t you? The whole country had been waiting for the rains and when they didn’t come we all went back to our Facebook pages with a knowing shrug; oh well, the Meteorelogical department is not exactly been known for its precision. Then it started raining and now it won’t stop.
The last thing you want to be caught in is the evening rain in Nairobi. But you will be caught in it because half the population of Nairobi skyves off work early hoping to get home before the downpour. But when they get to the roads they find the other half of Nairobi already there and bedlam ensues. When even just 0.4cm of rain comes down, the whole of Nairobi grinds to a halt. Literally. Someone from the West should come and do a study on this.
When it rains the traffic cops stand at the roundabouts, getting drenched and ignoring the traffic lights, which blink incessantly behind their backs. Everybody honks. Everybody wants to get home. And although you can smell the fresh moist ground of Africa, that sweet aroma of our motherland, you can also sense the frustrations of a city grow.
So you switch off your engine, tune in to a local radio station and listen to the talking heads on Evening Drive programmes spew a drivel. You ponder the irony that they are called the evening ‘drive’ when traffic doesn’t move when it rains in Nairobi. You pray that an electricity pole or a tree doesn’t fall across the road, because then you will get home just before breakfast. You would imagine that because you can do only 100 metres per hour, there would be less fender benders. Imagine again. This is Nairobi where more people get involved in minor collisions when they in a traffic jam than when they are doing 70km per hour.
Somehow we manage to get home. Somehow we manage to sort out our differences on the road. Somehow some of us manage to swim out of our cars when they are washed off the road. And we don’t complain because we are Nairobians. We deserve the leaders we chose. We deserve the bad roads and the bad drainage and the bad hours we get home when it rains. Because it could be worse. We could still be riding on the back of donkeys. Or carts. Or walking. At least this way we are dry.
We like our cars, and we are just glad that we have roads, even if they are acne spotted with potholes deep enough to turn into a cattle dip. Wait, that actually happens in some parts of the city that border Maasailand. After all, aren’t we all living in Maasailand?