21 February

Come with me. Let’s visit Nairobi. Enjoy the ride.

Once a week for the past seven weeks I have traveled the A2 from Kenyatta University into Nairobi’s City Centre. Today I had to visit the Nairobi County Commissioner and Director of Education for my Research Permit. I rely on my taxi driver James to keep me safe. I would never want to drive in Nairobi. I’d rather drive through mid-town in New York.

I hoped to be able to post a video that I took but my technology has failed me. I will have to use words to describe the visual experience instead.

I love the ride on the Thika Highway to Nairobi. You would too. Pedestrians cross the highway and walk in the road in unexpected ways in Nairobi and the sights of people on the highway come at you quickly and furiously. When traveling at 80-90 kmh it is unnerving to see a pedestrian walking across the highway as you speed toward them. They always make it to the center median, just in time, pulling themselves over the guardrail to cross the other side of speeding traffic. It is clearly dangerous. It is a common sight.

There are speed bumps on the highway every few kilometers, causing all traffic to slow immediately to go over the series of speed-bumps. This keeps the traffic from getting too fast. It also makes for braking, and swerving, and bouncing, before the accelerator is again pushed and we can speed on our way. Where there are speed bumps there are zebra-crossing marks in the road for pedestrians to cross. Despite the walkway, the pedestrians do not have the right of way, and people jostle to cross the road through the bumping cars that don’t want to stop. At the speed bumps, men stand between the lanes and sell newspapers. I remember the first time I was on this road and we were heading toward a speed bump, which I couldn’t see and didn’t know about, and all I saw were people in the road between the lanes waving papers. I could only picture carnage. There is always a man who sells toilet paper in the same spot. There is a lady who always sells roasted corn.

Men pull large two wheeled carts on the same road on which you are traveling at high speeds. Matatus, the local buses (all the small white vans), swerve and drive at a variety of speeds, depending on the health of the vehicle. Breakdowns are common, and with no breakdown lane, one of the three lanes in each direction is often blocked with dead vehicles. Kenyans have signs handy in their vehicles for such an occasion, signs we don’t use in America. On the sign is one image: !


People carry items on their heads. Motorbikes stacked with crates 4 or 5 high on the back, held by bungee cords, travel next to you. Vendors sell anything you could ever think of along the side of the road. Buses are full. Empty water jugs are lashed in high piles to the tops of buses. There are small fires every so often, and you see smoke ahead. It is an experience for the senses of colorful sights and sounds.

There are large billboards on the sides of the road, American style, but selling African products. Or Johnnie Walker.  There is construction everywhere, and so many building that you fly past are unfinished, surrounded by scaffolding. Unfinished upper floors are common. People live in unfinished buildings, waiting for funding to finish the top and build higher. Colorful laundry flutters from the balconies and windows of every building. There is drying laundry everywhere.


The journey is always interesting, and never exactly the same. I always see something I have never seen before in my life. Yesterday it was a man walking with empty jugs lashed together balanced on his head. The jugs are always bright yellow. He had 50 if he had one, and the stack balanced on his head was taller than he was, towering at least 8 feet above him. It was an unbelievable image for this American. But I saw it and it was real.

I hope you enjoyed the ride. This is Kenya! This is Nairobi! Join the fun. Karibu sana.


This entry was published on February 21, 2014 at 9:37 am. It’s filed under Culture, Food, People, Places, Sounds and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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