Although the overall project is about trains, I am going to allow myself to veer off the rails every now and then blogwise or we could all get bored. In Kenya, there are effectively only two regular rail services now (each going three times a week). In contrast, if you are in the cities, you spend a considerable portion of your life in traffic jams, going nowhere very slowly indeed, surrounded by a belching haze of choking black smoke. The catalytic converter and the low emissions zone haven’t made it out here. Then there is the fact that the traffic on the single lane road is often three abreast, with matatus (colourfully decorated, severely overloaded share taxis with passengers clinging to the open doors) weaving between wheezing lorries that would have been retired to a museum for vintage vehicle geeks to drool over several decades ago in the UK.
On either side of the road wide verges are lined by shops and stalls – a brightly painted Coke kiosk, an even brighter one advertising Omo washing powder, the Moping Kiosk (never discovered what it sold), the Noah Ark Curio Shop and the Small Joint bar and club, a gravestone shop (some of the samples already alarmingly engraved), a row of hellfire and brimstone Pentecostal churches with corrugated iron roofs and lime green walls. In front of them, the verges are crammed with things to buy – a full-sized metal giraffe, double-bed, a herd of elderly lawn mowers, and miles of luscious plants that bring a festive air to the proceedings and turn the road into a tropical garden.
The shopping opportunities are by no means confined to the side of the road however. With the traffic stalled, the sellers come to you. This is a list of what I got offered in one 300m, 20 min Nairobi jam. It is by no means definitive of what was on sale – just what I had time to write down: A framed original oil painting of Jesus with a lamb; a blow-up plastic alien; a selection of pirate DVDs (including The Taking of Pelham 123), a giant PVC map of the world; a collection of the flags of all nations; three different newspapers; apples and oranges; a Spiderman kite; a warning triangle and puncture repair kit; and a collection of animal fridge magnets. The man with a bucket of elderly roses on London’s South Circular has a lot to learn about how to entertain a gridlocked crowd. Carbon monoxide poisoning apart, Kenya wins hands down.