… spend 12 hours stuck in traffic or 2 days stuck in an airport?
Wednesday, September 3rd
(My last night in Nairobi)
The road from Westlands to the center of Nairobi is not a long road. On a clear Sunday morning it might take eight to ten minutes to drive between the two. Any other time, however … not so quick or predictable. Especially when the skies are raining or big-wigs are hobnobbing.
I had a tightly packed schedule on this particular Wednesday: sell the car, organize the documents, give all the official things to the appropriate people, finish packing for London, have dinner at some friends’ house, go with different friends to see another friend’s theatre piece, come home in time to catch a cab to the airport, fly to London. All day, the plan flowed along as sweet and smooth as chocolate on hot toast. I confirmed the buyer and dealt with the car documents while saying goodbyes to people along the way. I finished packing and even had time for a hot shower and a short rest. I found the Sawant’s new apartment and had delicious chicken curry with lots of fixings for dinner. Then, with many apologies for a rushed farewell meal, I was off to the reprisal of John-Sibi’s most recent show – a one-woman French play about an African woman’s life abroad and at home. I had missed it when it originally opened; this revival was my last shot to see it live and hug him and his family before leaving.
Marjanne and Misha guestimated traffic flow based on time of day and amount of evening drizzle, and picked me up at 6:00pm – an hour before the show time. We “aggressively negotiated” our way through Westlands and merged with the highway in about twenty minutes. That wasn’t so bad, we thought. We might get there in time. And just then, we stopped. We found ourselves at a dead standstill in the center of five lanes that should have been four, boxed in by large trucks on three sides. We couldn’t see if there was an accident ahead or if it was just normal heavy traffic, so we laughed and chatted and waited. John-Sibi texted to say they were pushing back the start time 20-30 minutes. Apparently we weren’t the only ones running late. An hour later we had moved all of 50 yards, but the trucks had changed lanes. We could see around the bend and down the hill, but was the view really better? The road ahead of us was flooded with break lights all the way to the distant skyscrapers. We would not make the opening, or even the first half. We got there in the end but it was 8:15 before we snuck in the back of the theatre, just in time for the emotional final scenes.
Two hours to go three miles – it has been several years since I have sat in traffic that ridiculous. If only we had known that evening that the skies and the big-wigs had conspired against us, we might have made a different plan. The temptation to be stressed and frustrated skirted around the edges of our thoughts, and yet …
We laughed and told stories and talked about school. I thought of all the other special traffic jams I’ve experienced in Nairobi. I thought of how much the road has changed in six years and I turned over all the memories tied to that particular stretch. Accidents and breakdowns and late nights and rainy days and more traffic and mystery mechanics all had a common theme. Each memory was a story of people – people who rescued me, who endured and laughed with me, people who pushed through to get to me. From there, my thoughts wandered through all the other special trips and experiences that have happened in Kenya, many of them recorded here. So many adventures, and threaded through all of them – people. Many wonderful people. As we sat there laughing and chatting in a sea of diesel fumes and tail lights, my heart was filled with thanks – for people, for adventures, for the people in my adventures.
Another friend and I, on another adventure, recently passed the time with a game of “Would You Rather”. The question at the top of this post was one of the features. At the time, I thought I’d prefer the traffic over the airport, but as we inched our way forward that last night in Nairobi I found my real answer.
With the right people to share the adventure, I would take both twice over.