Saturday, September 7, 2013

Warning: Road Hazard Ahead

I heard a cry, muffled by the nightly Kijabe wind, as I was walking back to my house.  I turned and saw someone lying on the road in a heap about 25 yards behind me.  It was CrazyMom.  She had just tripped over a rock embedded in the road and broken her hand . . . and it was the eve of the first day of school.

My father and I had just returned from Nairobi after a 10 hour excursion to collect a few remaining students from the airport.  After a stressful drive back to RVA in the dark, we had parked the school van and were heading back to the house when CrazyMom, returning from helping out in a dorm, saw us.  In running to catch up, she tripped and fell.  Dad and I had survived our road hazards that night without injury; CrazyMom had not.  CrazyMom’s fall has caused me to reflect on the many road hazards we have seen over the last year in Kenya.

The first road hazard to be aware of are the matatus.  These vehicles, just a bit larger than a mini-van, are the backbone of the public transportation here in Kenya and with the vast majority of the population not able to own a car, they are everywhere.  The reason that they are a road hazard is that it is costly for a matatu owner to take their car off a route for a couple of days to fix it up and then get the yearly inspection done.  It is cheaper to pay a bribe for the inspection and keep the vehicle on the road.  Yesterday (Friday) the brakes on a matatu failed as it was coming down the mountain to Kijabe.  It rolled - but thankfully not off a cliff - and sent many of its passengers to the hospital, including at least one of the national workers here at RVA.

One also has to watch for animals on the roads.  There is the standard herd-in-the-middle-of-the-road hazard, but also donkeys that won't budge even after you bump them with the front of your car.  Even more dangerous are the goats that get startled and dash out in front of a car.  If you hit one, since you are rich enough to own a car it is automatically your fault and you will have to negotiate payment with the owner.

Then there are people everywhere.  I will be driving along the highway at night passing people who are between my car and the concrete divider in the middle of the highway.  People will be carrying all sorts of goods, pushing wheelbarrows and pulling carts, and walking on the roads in heavy traffic.  It is dangerous and as a driver, it keeps you on constant high alert.

The boda-bodas (motorcycles) on the road carry people and goods where matatus can’t go.  They drive any direction they want on a road and often are overloaded with people, couches, wood, and, yes, even cows.

Sleeping policemen (speed bumps) are a big hazard as well.  They are almost never marked and occur even on major roads.  In our first month in Africa a woman with us received a concussion from hitting her head on the roof of the car when the driver did not notice the sleeping policeman in time.  I hit one hard enough that we had to pull over and check the car for damage.  If only they were marked . . . .

Fog and dust.  At our elevation, fog sets in on a regular basis and gets so thick that it is hard to see anything.  It's hard to know whether to slow down so you don't hit somebody or keep going so you don't get hit. Then down in the valley there are dust storms that block the view.

When driving in the valley, there are places where the road has dropped anywhere from a foot to 15 feet.  The driving speed is  usually slow enough that there is not much danger of falling in, but I always wonder if I will be on a road when it collapses.  The previous owner of my car had a road collapse below the car.  A group of people came and picked up the car by hand and set it on firm ground.
Rocks in the road, mud, accidents, oncoming trucks in your lane (although the photo is of us in the lane of the truck) and much more is the reason why, after getting everybody in the car, we pray before we set out to go somewhere.  We are thankful that at the end of a year in Africa our only road accident was not involving a car, but rather simply tripping on a rock in the road.


Tom Snide said...

You could write the sequel to the Dr. Seuss book...but call it "Oh, The Places We Have Been". :-)

Really enjoyed your blog story and photos. Thanks for sharing. It's a stark contrast to where we are... they are resurfacing the main roads near my office... and people have been complaining about the traffic jams an inconvenience it has caused. First World problems, I guess.

Your kids are going to have so many great life lessons to both carry with them - and share with others. Plus, awesome photos to boot!

Mama Ds Dozen said...

Oh the memories of my two trips to Ghana!

Loved the last picture of the kids on the roof.

Praying for healing for CrazyMom's arm,
and continued protection as you all travel.


Dan Snook said...

Oh, the places we have been stuck!

Jenn Nahrstadt said...

having just "been there, done that" (got home last night), it was so fun to read this post! while i am glad to be home, kenya gets in your blood very quickly.

wish i had been able to come to kijabe to see you and yours. meeting lisa hovingh was quite moving. i wrote about it on the Trading Hope blog:

thanks for mentioning BTA. tell sheri i hope she feels better soon!