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Where is everyone in Nairobi rushing to?

It’s Nairobi. There is, of course, a traffic jam. Many, many people are stuck in their vehicles. What is interesting is how agitated everyone gets. No one is calm. No one is reflective. No one meditates. No one takes the opportunity to catch up with the news headlines on the radio; to chill out to some nice tunes; to daydream; to read a book; to just…think.

Not at all. The people on the road are tense. They need to move. They refuse to let anyone cut in in front of them. They try to overlap the line of cars ahead, dangerously. They pile into junctions even when they are not clear, blocking them further. They climb on pavements and send pedestrians scattering and raise clouds of dust, just to gain a few metres.

I asked on Twitter: which life-changing event do all these Nairobians imagine they are rushing to? I doubt very much that they gain more than a few minutes with all that manoeuvring. In fact, when everyone starts breaking the codes of queueing and waiting, gridlock ensues for all, and everyone gets to work even later. So what’s the problem here? What am I missing? What remarkably important stuff are these people straining to do?

The answers, as always, were hilarious. Here’s a small sample.

Most Nairobians, I was told, don’t have wifi at home. They are forced to live off their precious data bundles. But most offices have free wifi. And there is no life these days for most people away from the internet in general, and from social media in particular. I was told this on Twitter, so it rings true.

So that’s why so many people are so agitated. They need to get to the office quickly to see if they have any more likes on Facebook; to see if anyone retweeted that awe-inspiring tweet they posted the night before; to see if Kim Kardashian has put up another video on YouTube; to check whether any of their friends have Instagrammed their breakfasts yet.

Another reason why every second counts is…football. Not local soccer, you understand, but that played by distant teams in faraway lands. For the diehard foreign-football enthusiasts in Nairobi (who may actually constitute the majority on our roads), life has only two high notes: watching football; and discussing it after the game with one’s fellow fans and those of opposing teams. And when one’s team has won a key game, those moments take precedence in lifetime importance over more trifling matters such as a key work presentation; one’s wedding; or the birth of one’s child.

So that’s where a whole bunch of people are hurtling to. To exchange high-fives with fellow fans by the water cooler and to rain insults on the miserable fans of the losing team of the moment. It’s crucial that they are present when the banter is in full flow, you see.

That still leaves a few unstrung people unaccounted for. Some, I’m told, belong to that group who save money on tea, coffee, milk and sugar at home, and have their first cup on the employer when they arrive at work. In this caffeine-deprived state, an unexpected traffic jam so deranges them that they engage in life-threatening motor stunts.

In this year-before-a-campaign-year, another factor has kicked in. I am led to understand that pretty much every person in Nairobi will either be running for office in 2016; or will be campaigning for someone who is. And so there are many before-work and after-work campaign planning sessions to get to. If one arrives late, one misses out on the key role allocations, and might forever lose out on one’s turn to eat. Hence the distress.

And lastly, of course, there are those bigwigs who are simply too important to languish in traffic. It cannot be perceived that their time is no more important than that of the hoi polloi crowding the streets. They must blare their sirens and deploy their chase cars to clear the way. They must get to the office to read nine newspapers cover-to-cover (only to see if they have been mentioned anywhere), and then work on various crucial tenders that other bigwigs have their beady eyes on. It’s a rat race, and only the quickest rats will win.

All that the hurrying people need is a bumper sticker: “Rushing to get to hell first.”

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