Hello there, been a minute.
I recently came across some hilariously written story on Wanderlust Diaries on Facebook and was reminded of many years back when I resided in Ruaka and worked for a Non Governmental Organization based in Westlands.
The commute to and fro was pretty convenient given I would take cabs most of the time if I was not working remotely or was out of the country overseeing the project I was coordinating in the East and Southern African region.
However, I am not sure at what point my crazy mind started considering the thought of getting a driving license. I had considered the thought of owning a car so I hurried down to the Village Market one fine morning, presented myself at the AAR driving school office and registered for classes. I paid the entire amount in cash to avoid changing my mind and the occasional class interruptions until payment was cleared. Wow¡ Girl clearly had her mind made up.
During my first class, I arrived one hour early, sat by some cafe, sipping that finely brewed coffee and taking in the calm instrumental music blowing through strategically placed speakers around me while I chanted good vibes in my head, my mantra to have a successful theory class, blah, blah blah blah. I’d bought a pricey notebook and pen and dressed like I was going on a date for the very first time in years, haha.
Classes carried on well and after few days of the theories, I went on to do an assessment which I passed. Then went on to start on the practical classes, which would see my hands glued to the steering wheel, cruising around (or so I thought), trying to find balance under the guidance of a pleasant driving instructor.
Mine was a polite middle aged man, a little over 5“4 inches tall, with extremely kind eyes and a gentle aura. He spoke calmly, taking shot breaks between sentences like he was reading a poem. We got off to a good start by the time I was doing my second practical class which took about an hour. As soon as he picked me up, we would switch sides and I would sit behind the wheel. From there, instructions on the direction we would head towards that day would be mouthed. Driving in and around Gigiri, bypass and through Runda Estate was easy peasy. My hands would wobble once in a while when I caught sight of big trucks and aggressively driven public service vehicles. However, my instructor kept me on toes, gently talking me into relaxing and to remember my theory lessons, whose tips I was expected to put into practice. It worked. I was over the moon.
We even started sharing funny episodes during the classes because I was now very comfortable driving around. I had honestly become the queen of multitasking on the road from the many compliments that flew my way. I guess I got over confident.
Until one afternoon, he mentioned that we would be driving into Gachie town, to experience a different route and environment. I felt a cold chill run down my spine. I didn’t know what to expect but whatever it was, the mention of that name alone left me frozen. I did not argue, my entire body was suddenly stiff.
I drove slowly, carefully, observing and obeying all the road signs. As we approached Gachie town, I panicked, stopped the car in the middle of the road, stepped on the brakes and looked all around me like I was waiting for an angel to appear and drive the car instead. The matatu behind me started hooting and the driver shouted endlessly. The instructor was staring at me, horrified. I could see he was talking to me but all I could only see was his lips mumbling. He was stunned.
My mind was replaying all of those stories told about this small town. …of the insecurities being a resident there, robberies in broad daylight, house, car break-ins, vandalism especially if one failed to comply to the thug’s demands. One of my informants even shared how he lived in an estate where he was surrounded by robbers. He would buy house equipment and the very night, his neighbors would break the door and carry the items to their houses. On his watch. There was nothing he could do. 4 months on until he decided to move. With not even an underwear or mobile phone charger to boot. He walked out, only in the clothes he had on. He was lucky to not have had those stripped off him too. During the few times I took public transport to and from Westlands via Gachie, I remember tucking my phones on the soles of my shoes for fear of getting robbed. Those recounts and memories were as fresh as daisies.
Please allow me to introduce this small town known as Gachie. Named after one of its first settlers who was a son of Kihara, it is located in Kihara Ward, Kiambaa constituency, Kiambu County and about 12 kilometers from Nairobi City. Gachie is a stone throw away from Ruaka Town, sorrounded by other small towns such as Riabai, Ndenderu, Muchatha, Gigiri, Muthaiga and Runda. Gachie was ideally a small town, spread out in a serene upcountry feel so am talking thickets and bush, tall trees and all the greenery you can imagine. The views my eyes fed on as the public vehicles sped us off to our respective work places were nothing short of magnificent. Less is more, they say. You‘d spot few buildings which would either be residential houses if not shops several meters apart. The roads that cascaded up steep hills and down naturally landscaped valleys were tarmacked, providing an efficient escape from all the early morning and evening traffic madness on Kenyan roads. The immediate neighbors in the vicinity of this town were upcoming and heavily guarded plush estates, private villas mostly owned and resided by The Who’s who and gated communities. That left Gachie feeling like that abandoned child who walked to school barefoot, had nothing to eat or a place to call home. Gachie was in essence, a modified slum in the making, set in the middle of multimillion dollar homes; Nyari Estate and the likes. Anyways, I believe that gives you a slight glimpse of Gachie so let us get back on track.
All the confidence I had mustered on the road for weeks disappeared. Anyone that saw this girl, sitting behind the steering wheel of an AAR driving school vehicle, would have thought she has never driven a day in her life.
The instructor shouted, senses returned to me and I started explaining why I could not drive further. I was scared stiff. It was barely half an hour later and I wanted to go back home and never participate in those damned classes again. I released the brake and the vehicle started moving. Few steps ahead was a young child crossing the road, I stopped to wait till he passed. Then I could not move, more hooting all over, shouting by impatient passerby’s. Some more people taking advantage to adamantly cross the road at the same spot, staring into my face, ignoring each of my hoots. They went about their businesses, unfazed.
My instructor begged me to be careful lest the car gets stoned by the angry men. I was done.
He asked me to indicate, drive the car to the side, park and stop. He took over and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. For the first time, I have never seen him so angry. I was reprimanded for the remaining part of my class, until drop off. He promised that we would be back to Gachie every class after that. After all, the whole point was to get off roads where motorists were civilized and gain confidence driving on unruly ones too.
In Gachie, hooting to get people off the road did not work, it took little effort to anger the locals to warrant a proper beating, he said. I had to learn the hard way so that when I ever got to drive in areas like those in future I would be mentally prepared. There was also a high chance of plying that route during the final test, being familiar with it meant I would not fail.
I attended a few more classes after that. Once, I almost hit a young man that could not get off the road even after alerting him on time, second time, a group of men identifying themselves as part of the dreaded Mûngîkî sect threatened to gouge out my eyeballs for slowing down at their stop to reverse the car. Mûngîkî is an outlawed ethnic outfit that originally started off in the late 1980‘s as a ‘self defence force’ made up of one of Kenya‘s tribes, the Kikuyu. “Mûngîkî” is a Kikuyu word that means, ‘multitude’ or ‘a united people’ and was inspired by the 1950‘s Mau Mau uprising against the British rule. In the Kenyan General elections of 2007, we all remember how the Mûngîkî sect was adversely mentioned at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for having fueled violence against fellow Kenyans. And that ladies and gentlemen, marked the beginning to the end of my driving classes.
I never went back to finish my classes, never did my tests. All the money I paid pretty much got flushed down the drain, thanks to my fear of that small town Gachie. I have not been back there since. I understand the town has significantly grown. Maybe, someday I will return to see it for myself.