Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Nairobi Traffic

20 years ago when Carolyn and I regularly traveled in and out of Nairobi from our assignment in Somalia, Nairobi traffic was a non-issue. There was plenty of space on the roads. The matatus (minivan public transport) raced each other up and down the Uhuru Highway then as they do now. Only now, there is bumper to bumper traffic from the airport to Westlands where the Mennonite Guest House is. Diesel smoke from engines too long in need of a tune up, clog the air. Bill boards on either side of the road hem in the round-abouts like some box canyon. Kenyans still ply the sidewalks in droves in a city that has long since exceeded its infrastructural carrying capacity.

I am here for just a few hours, catching up with MCC’s new regional directors. I have dashed into the city, from the airport, between my 3pm arrival from Juba and my 11pm flight to Amsterdam. My hope is for at least three hours of quality time with them and today, the traffic isn’t so bad. I only spend one hour total in the taxi. It’s not that way every day.

On my last trip, the flight crew got stuck in traffic on their way to the airport delaying the flight by 1½ hours. Their usual 45 minute trip from their hotel took more than 2.

Mega cities around the world face the same problem. I read in the paper of a woman who got in her car in Manila to go to a party. 18 hours later she was still stuck in traffic no further toward her destination. The car, while promising the freedom we most seek, often becomes a cage as millions of others seek the same.

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