It was 10am on a Friday in a busy dusty Nairobi. The sun was shining just bright enough to provide camouflage for the bone rattling chill. And it did so expertly; the treacherous glow had however convinced the masses to underdress.
But not I, Popeye. I anticipated this deceit and layered up.
I can’t stop glancing at my watch doing mental mathematics: I was meant to have an appointment at 11am at a hotel in Gigiri and had just gotten out of one in the CBD. Unlike the wealthier lot of you, my chauffeur was not waiting for me at the door when I came out, but instead at the bus stop where I was headed. ‘If I hop on a 106 or a 107 I’d make it to that area in 20 minutes or less and be half an hour early.’ So I stroll leisurely towards the stage.
10:20am: I’m waiting for a Matatu so we can leave.
Then I realize “Hey, I’ve never had to wait for one of these.” The beauty of certain routes is that there is such a high volume of commuters that there is always a matatu on its way out. But that day, nothing was moving. Perturbed, I got ready to ask one of the bystanders when out of nowhere, wananchi erupted onto the road and began blocking incoming traffic. The cars honked, the people screamed back. It was like cavemen had just sprout from the streets and were now jousting these mechanical animals. Pandemonium.
Kenyan drivers, however, are seldom deterred. They just honked really hard and then drove through the crowd. So that little uprising fizzled before too long. Everybody settled on either side of the road again.
Now my curiosity had peaked. But before I could ask what was going on, makangas (conductors) – seemingly possessed by that same spirit of the caveman – bolted towards us from the Globe Cinema area – running towards incoming traffic – voices raised and arms flailing. They were diverting each one of their bus and matatu driving brethren from going anywhere near the roundabout. Judging by the fear and helplessness on their faces, one would think Godzilla were about to emerge from behind them. I was slowly getting a grip of what was going on when this
white chickcaucasian female behind me asked “What’s going on here?” A brisk, court reply from one of the locals cemented my worst fear.
For those unfamiliar with the term, this generally means cops are cracking down on a particular commute route and as a result, all public transport vehicles – which are largely illegal – avoid said route. Seldom does it happen so close to the City Center that transport out of the city is completely halted, but today was one of those days.
I caught a glimpse of the time as I threw my arms up in frustration.
10:35am: I need a plan B.
To be fair, I still had time, but this is Nairobi: the city of The Domino Effect. When one thing is out of balance, everything crumbles. Everything. But I opted for optimism on this day.
First I called the guy I should’ve been meeting and he didn’t pick up. No bueno. So I quickly picked the phone and called my cab guy. He had a customer but promised to get me another cab.
Now, all humility accounted for, my cab dude is superior to yours. That guy saves my life on a weekly basis. I promise before you to one day document those adventures. But for now, back to my story.
10:45am: I’m in a substitute cab. Oh yes, that fast. I told you my cabby is a superhero. No, you cannot have his number. You’ll dilute the soup.
So we’re zooming towards Village Market area, I’m on the phone trying to call this hotel guy again when out of nowhere the driver slows the taxi down to a halt. There’s no traffic so….you guessed it….police check. I’m fully aware that this can either be very short or very long – nothing in between. Once “very short” is ruled out as an option, I begin looking for a Plan C.
10:47am: I send out this message “I’m at a police check in Parklands. On my way.”
10:49am: I get a reply “Hurry. I have a meeting at 11:30 that I cannot move.”
After I’m done pooping my pants in frustration, I begin to sort out this “Plan C”
10:50am: The Police take my taxi driver out of the car and begin to interrogate him.
10:55am: I get out in hopes of walking on the road, looking for a cab.
I spend the next 5 minutes arguing with the cops about my right to get alternate transportation given that they’ve decided to kidnap mine. While causing a scene, a taxi stops right next to me. I look over, and it’s my regular cab guy. Told you that dude was a superhero.
11:15am: Stuck in traffic.
A lorry had broken down outside the Canadian embassy and cars could no longer move. At this point, I had essentially given up on making it on time and was banking strictly on my slick talking abilities(and the truth) to get me out of trouble if I didn’t get there too late.
11:29am: I get there and…well, long and short, I fail to see the man I came to meet. He was there, but he was so frustrated at me being late that he essentially threatened to cancel the deal.
I wanted to be mad but the fact is that I indeed got there late and he had every right to move into his next meeting. While cursing up Hades’ wrath, I look at my watch. My next appointment is for 2:30pm at a location about half an hour away. Given what just happened, I refuse to dwell and waste time. I begin making my way to the bus stop. No transport. I call my taxi dude, and even he’s been clinked up by the authorities.
So I wait for public transport to resume. An hour later, Police were still running that stupid operation.
And they continued to do so.
For the next 5 hours.
I cancelled the rest of my day’s meetings and found a corner to sit and sulk in.
Fuck the police.