Last Saturday I drove to the city centre, for the first time this year, using the old Mombasa Road, as other motorists flew past on the new Nairobi Expressway. Now, the old Mombasa Road means the road “downstairs,” as opposed to the new one, which we could call “upstairs.”
But I got to the upstairs road by accident. Driving from Westlands to catch a theatre performance at the Kenya National Theatre, I accidentally got onto the expressway, having been misled by the attendants who had placed barriers to warn motorists that the road ahead had a toll fee and one needed cash.
Well, I did not want to get late for the performance, so I stopped two pedestrians and we bartered cash for an M-Pesa transfer. One had Fuliza, so I was asked to send the modest amount to her colleague.
I got on the upstairs road, absorbed by this act by blessed, hard-up Kenyans: they might not have much to give, saddled with Fuliza debts and all, but that won’t prevent them from helping a distressed stranger.
I recognised instantly I was on the wrong road, as I rode past the national broadcaster and watched in horror as I headed out of town and saw road signage directing me to Mlolongo. I exited at the Haile Selassie roundabout and joined the crawl back into town.
That’s all I needed to be converted. The expressway has a magical feel —insulated against the din and chaos downstairs — it offers something I haven’t experienced in the city over the past two decades: Expected Time of Arrival.
There’s a certain predictability that comes with it. I have used the expressway twice this week and I intend to keep using it. I’m not selling out by going upstairs and leaving the mkokoteni pushers, boda bodas and the matatu operators downstairs. I’ll keep pushing for change from upstairs! Tuko pamoja!