Saturday, 24 September 2011

It's a jam!

Anyone who has ever visited Nairobi in the last few years has surely experienced the one thing it offers without fail-a traffic jam!You might have been caught in one on your way home from the airport or on your way to the airport-at the risk of missing your flight,as my husband did once!
The line of cars and matatus(the mini buses which are the sole mode of public transport) stretches on the road as far as the eye can see merging into the far horizon as you stew in your car.You slowly inch your way forward through the never ending line,glancing at your watch every few minutes.But what is most astonishing is the silence!Apart from the smooth purring of your Toyota(yes,Africa is total Toyota country!)there is no other sound on the road as the car creeps forward.Where is the cacaphony of horns,the drivers shouting abuse at each other,people almost coming to blows due to road rage?We,from India cannot imagine a traffic jam without all these!But here the people patiently accept these jams as part of their daily life and just build their schedules taking into account the time wasted in the jam.Wow!
The biggest culprits responsible for these jams,I thought,were the huge roundabouts that you see in Nairobi.They occupy a large area and seem to be the epicenter of all jams!They appear to be a Kolonial legacy as I remember that Pune too had these huge roundabouts at all the major junctions,the most prominent one being the one at the Pune University circle!Then,as the city grew and our roads were widened,all of these were demolished and replaced by token dividers.Therein lies the solution,I feel,for the Nairobi jams too.Though the roundabouts have such beautiful flowers and shrubs that they almost make up for the discomfort of being caught in a jam!
It is worse when it rains!Nairobi old timers love to recount horror stories of the jams on rainy days when it takes seven hours for what would ordinarily be a forty minute journey!And if you are low on fuel,as a friend of ours was,during such a jam,only God can help you.Specially as chances are high that the petrol pump you manage to reach will be bone dry too!Why?The tanker coming to replenish the fuel is caught in the jam somewhere miles behind you!Thats a Nairobi jam in a nutshell for you!

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