The parking pool in Nairobi traffic is a sight to behold. Amidst the delibatating poverty in the country and wavering foreign debts for development funded projects, one can be confused to think you are on the streets of New York traffic jams. The culture of owning a car in Nairobi is not only fascinating but a necessity that has woven into the suburban folks. Owning a car in Nairobi irrespective if you have parking space at your rental home is not only a necessity but a great escape from immense poverty and a way to build self confidence and esteem. The demands of owning a car is a must after your first job; It is a way of life in Nairobi. It does not matter if you own a road unworthy junk of car that gives you numerous trips to the local garage, as long as you own one. Matt McGath, an Environment correspondent with BBC news wrote an insightful article worth reading on 26th October 2020 on “Climate change: Dangerous and dirty used cars sold to Africa”.
There is some elegance and respect that comes with owning a car in Nairobi. It exudes power and success even if you are drowning in debts and no job. From the security guard stationed at work and at your rented home he or she accords you a Member of Parliament respect . They call you “Sir” “Madam” when you drive through. You automatically become Mr. Money bags when you drive. The finer the car the higher the expectations even from the parking attendants. This reminds me every time I walk through the market in my neighbourhood, most mama mbogas scamper to serve those driving and too “tired” to step out of their vehicles to shop. Many a time I have been left holding my carrots and cabbage in my hands as my mama mboga excused herself to serve quickly the man or woman driving through in his car. I have always wanted to know if they pay extra to be served sitted behind the wheel🙄.
The younger generation takes immense pride in owning not just a car but that car. This obviously brings meaning into their lives more than anything else. Severally, I have seen in amusement young lads parade their Subaru cars and to those exuding extra pride and confidence show off Mercedes Benz class(es) cars. If you log into Instagram, the sight of these cars are paraded carefree for all and sundry to see and is always a sight to behold. A couple of months ago social media was awash with a video of a woman singing praises to God for having bestowed her friend with a powerful machine worth millions. Unfortunately the owner of this plush machine died tragically from a bullet wound later. Like him, the urban culture and demands is pressing the youth further to want to prove to kin and friends that ‘they have made it in life’.
A close friend of mine is dating a man who owns a exquisite German machine. Every time he visits, he lets her take the car for a spin anywhere. I am that friend that sits on the side of the driver with my elbow stuck out of the window like I own that car. With windows rolled down we drive through the shopping malls to buy only a roll on and matchboxes; Stop by the petrol station to have the windows cleaned and tyres added pressure and enjoy the “Madam, Madam pleasantries “. After that, we pop by to visit old friends who are popular in gossiping about others lives to just say hello. The car keys is worth noting can never fit in any handbag. It has got to swing and be placed precariously on table tops for those close to pay attention. It works. Even in restaurants. Walk in on foot and some hotels may discriminate on you. One time, a four star wanna be five star hotel denied me entry to its establishment sighting that I looked like a security threat. A lady passed me by at the entrance with the usual dangling car keys gait, her bag was not even searched. But wait, I on the outside still looked like a security threat? According to such establishments, security threats are cited number one are from those people that walk in on foot to such discriminatory hotels, period. Amazingly the valet has the temerity to sneer at your dusty shoes and dry lips not knowing you can afford to tip him😂.
Ever tried applying for a tender and walk in to present your proposals to the institutions that called for the tender? My friend, you would rather hire a car for that purpose only. Otherwise, you are deemed not serious and unable to deliver the requirements of the tender. Practically you are reserved as someone who will be unable to deliver anything in a timely manner. A car proves you can move around with ease and when called upon at any time.
Villagers have not been left behind in the worshipping culture of car owners. When I was growing up, every school holiday we travelled upcountry to help with tea and coffee picking from the farm. I had this aunt who had married into a rich family. The husband had bought her a second hand saloon car. Every school holiday she drove her kids too to the village and ensured she stopped at every neighbouring home she knew as she grew up. She would roll several kshs.50 to give any villager who flagged her down with praises as she slowly drove past. On reaching home at my grandparents, she was welcomed with ululations and dance. It did not matter if she only had carried 1kg of sugar and a 500 grams packet of maize meal flour, the car was a promise of better things to come for the villagers pockets. My professor friend in UK recently lamented to me how his younger brother who had just finished University was burgeoning him to send him money to buy a car. His worry was how will he afford to fuel a car without a job? Professor knows that is an irresponsible thought expecting him to break the bank for a liability!
In my younger days, women would list a criteria of things to look for in a man before accepting to date him. Then, we did not have ubers and the regular taxis were exorbitant. On top of the list was he should drive a car, not necessarily own but at least drive one. This would add ease to and from dinner dates to the ladies. A young man with a car then had ladies swarming to him like bees. What he did to earn a living was the least of anyone’s concern or how many other women he was dating. As long as you earned a place to sit on the lady’s seat like a Mrs.in his car and all your friends gawked with envy as he picked and dropped you. That was a boost for your self esteem for the remaining part of the year.
We also have a culture of all and sundry asking you if you drive? From kin, colleagues and potential dates. This question should be shelved by all as an invasion of one’s privacy. This wayside question always triggers my mind to ask if one knows if you drive, does it mean they want to be your co-driver or will they automatically have shares in owning your car 🙄?
(Photo courtesy pinterest )