Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kenyan Economic Development Zone

I have to thank my friend Dan for the title to this piece.  His Rice University education is an indicator that he has quite a bit going on between his ears.  His dry sense of humor slips past most folks.

In our recent trip to Kenya, travel across the country was a very exciting event.  We flew into Nairobi and were taken to the Brackenhurst Resort.  We spent the first night there.

On day two however, we drove west across the "White Highlands" and the "Great Rift Valley" to the "Western Highlands" near the Uganda border.  Our destination was the village/town/small city of Kakamega.

As we progressed west across the beautiful Kenyan countryside we were treated to what might be termed Grand Prix driving, Kenyan style.  The first concern is that everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road!  Having been a former British Colony, the traffic laws require that you drive on the left -- not on the right as we do in the U.S.

The wrong-sided driving wasn't too bad, but, there were potholes in the roads.  The further west we traveled, away from Nairobi, the more numerous and larger the potholes.  So, at 80 kph and higher speeds, we dodged potholes.  The drivers that we were meeting did the same.  It was a high-speed game of "chicken" with oncoming traffic weaving across lanes and around potholes while our driver did the same.

To complicate the matter, there was a high volume of pedestrian traffic on the sides of the highway (a term used loosely).  Oh, and there were bicycles and motorcycles and donkey carts and cattle and flocks of sheep and people crossing the road at random places.  Not to mention that much of the oncoming traffic was lorries (trucks for you Americans).

The travel was quite exciting.  The front seat -- "shotgun" -- was NOT the place to be.  I let those who had difficulty with the occasional car-sickness sit there.  Interestingly, the passenger riding shotgun to Kakamega chose NOT to ride in the same spot on the return.  Oh, did I mention that the "shotgun" rider sits on the wrong side of the vehicle.  I was forever trying to get in on the driver's side.

As if all of those things weren't enough, there were occasionally traffic policemen standing beside the road waving down the occasional vehicle.  It usually wasn't for traffic violations but, for the supplemental income that it provided to them.

But, of all things, there were frequent "Economic Development Zones."  Well, that wasn't what they called them.  They were speed bumps placed randomly and frequently along the road.  Since the traffic cops didn't have vehicles, it was probably the only way to slow traffic.  The interesting thing about the speed bumps was that at each of them, there were roadside vendors who swarmed the vehicle with various items to sell.  If you wanted a souvenir -- just roll down the window and see what was being offered.  Hungry? -- how about a banana or a bag of plums or perhaps roasted corn-on-the cob -- oh, wait, that's maize-on-the-cob.  What to us is corn is maize in most of the world.

So, after describing the journey across Kenya to Dan, he said, "It sounds like the speed bumps should be dubbed "Economic Development Zones!"  I think he's right.

Carrot anyone??

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