Celebrating East African Writing!
I was sitting down with fellow youths during a two-day First Aid training inside a German Red Cross Society lecture hall; in the German city of Freiburg. Just before taking a short break, the trainer inquired about how many of us had no driving-licences or were willing to take the offered Driving course. I didn’t raise my hand for I had a driving-licence acquired from my home country earlier before I traveled abroad.
One talkative lady seated next to me on my left moved closer and asked.
Hast du ihn verstanden? ( Did you understand him?)
“Yes I did, however I have one already. What I need to inquire from him later is the possibility of getting an international driving-licence.” I replied.
“What! I thought you don’t have roads in your country” She remarked with genuine surprise – sustaining the frown on her face for some seconds. The youth on my right hand-side joined the conversation at this point.
“No! There are roads but no traffic rules.” he said looking at me as if to allow me time to shed light on his remark. I said nothing, prompting him to take over again.
“Yes, my parents were in Africa for holiday and they told me that drivers don’t stop at the Ample or Red light and, that Zebra crossings are also there, however people cross at their own risks. Sometimes pedestrians…”
‘…look, Africa is large, in which country were your parents?’ I interrupted apparently getting rather annoyed that he could make such conclusions after a single visit in one part of Africa.
It wasn’t abnormal for me to get annoyed with fictions of such nature or stereotypes about Africa or Kenya in particular.
‘I don’t remember the country, but it was in this country where there’s Masai Mara. I think in Kenya”
“Oh, I see. Should we go to Edeka or McDonald?” I asked, changing the topic abruptly. We then walked out to the nearby McDonald for Lunch.
While queuing for my food and all through lunch, I kept pondering the issue that had caused a storm in my tea-cup; I thought of the funny comments about traffic rules and driving-licences from my colleagues and no roads in Africa. Technically what they were saying was true because the more I pondered on the issue in my mind, the more the true picture of what goes on roads in my country glared at me. Not positively.
“In a way, they’re right’ I said to myself and smiled bitterly as memories of how I acquired my driving- licence flashed through my mind.
It was towards the end of September 2006 back home in Kenya when I asked a close relative for cash to enable me join a driving school in Nairobi. She gave me the cash and asked me to join the government-owned driving school, which she said was the best.
I walked inside a lonely old premises situated near south B where theory classes were on-going. Apart from the single old lorry parking in front of the building whose faded colour I could not easily recognise, there was no sign that I had reached the government driving school premises. I moved on, walking directly towards one of the offices and inquired for admission of which I was told to wait until the next intake, this was to be in three months. Since I did not have three months to wait, my relative and I inquired from one of the best private driving schools in the country where I was allowed to begin my courses anytime.
I took the prospectus from that private driving school with me home, to read it for myself after inquiry and payment for my theory classes. According to the well elaborated prospectus from this very famous driving school, learners were to take up 15hours field/practical lessons distributed as 1hour per day in 15 days, while the theory classes had no time-limit.
My plan to attend the theory classes first before showing up for the practical part of the driving course went on successfully. There were all kinds of learners, but the one that I still remember until today, was that short, rotund man in his mid forties, who pick-pocketed a shopping list and a memory card from me; I was still learning German-language and had scribbled down some few vocabularies on a card and carried it with me for remembrance and the shopping list had remained in my pocket after I had gone out shopping few hours earlier. This man was standing behind me and executed his action when I raised a question that caused laughter.
“Many drivers don’t obey the traffic lights and in many occasions they ignore zebra crossings even if there are pedestrians waiting to cross the road. Why is it so? Do they…I mean, are they qualified drivers?” this was my question.
The theory teacher looked at me and said, “Take what I’m teaching you seriously and pass your exam. whatever you’ll do after receiving your driving licence will be upon you.”
There was loud laughter. Those seating in front of me turned to face me and I felt hands tapping my back softly. I also felt a hand sweeping my behind at once and I turned to check – the back pocket of my jeans pant had been swept clean, and the men behind me looked so honest that it was difficult to get a single suspect. We had little argument, of course, but all was in vain. When I was walking out after the lesson, I met this short, rotund man standing outside the exit door. He was squinting his eyes trying to read some German words in a small card.
“In case you can’t understand the words, try reading the shopping list.” I said to him.
He looked at me without a word.
“It is in English.” I added. He threw the card down and gave me a thumb and a smile as I walked away.
As soon as I felt that there was nothing new to learn from the theory classes, I thought it was time to talk to one of the officials at the reception to book me a driving instructor at my convenient time, which was the following day. With no job, my only focus at the time was learning how to drive within the shortest time possible.
My main plan therefore was to begin with the C class of a vehicle before touching a small car, so I was directed to a station outside the city square where lorries were available for driving lessons.
I reported to this place at 1400hrs the following day and attended a theory lesson together with other learners while waiting for my first practical lesson scheduled to begin at exactly 1500hrs.
At exactly 1455, I went to confirm with the receptionist to ensure my practical course was valid as scheduled and that I had driving instructor.
“Haraka ya nini, wewe yako ni saa tisa (What’s the hurry for! You are not scheduled until 1500hrs.)” said one of the three receptionists.
I did not argue, but waited for the next instructions from him. He called me after a while and mentioned to me the vehicle I was assigned by reading out its registration number and the name of my driving instructor.
I walked out to search for the vehicle. It was parked between several other Lorries, however, there was nobody inside the vehicle.
After waiting outside for more than ten minutes without seeing my instructor, I walked back to inquire from the receptionists if my instructor was anywhere around.
“wewe ingia ndani ukae atakuja” ( just go in and sit, he’ll come to you)” said one of the receptionists.
My driver showed up at around 1520hrs and, without apology for coming late, he gave me a book to sign my name and date. I took the booklet and confirmed that my signature would show that I had completed my first 1hr-practical lesson. I tried to ask him whether my thought was right and he got annoyed so I signed it to avoid having an annoyed instructor.
“So, because this is your first practical lesson, we will only learn about important parts of this vehicle, their names and purposes. No driving on your first lesson” he said.
The lesson ended at around 1545hrs.
On the second day, my instructor came 15 minutes late, but I was eager to begin moving that old Lorry. We started off and moved on. The road was tared but was no different from a rough road – it might have been tared during the colonial period. We had to move left and right to escape the many pot-holes. We moved on some 400meters ahead where my instructor told me to make a U-turn to end the lesson 35 minutes after the beginning of that lesson.
“Kwani hutoi lunch,unaenda tu hivyo! Hivyo tu! (Can’t you buy me lunch? You just leave like that! just like that!)” he said to me. On his face was a mixture of seriousness and a smile.
“It’s almost 4pm, are you sure you didn’t have lunch?” I asked.
He shook his head and stared at me before saying:
“Wewe unataka kujua gari kweli? Sawa, tuchekiane kesho. (Are you sure you want to learn how to drive? OK! See you tomorrow)”
This is part of a longer story. If you like what you read so far, please comment and rate below, and the remaining part will be posted in the next week’s blog.
© Dominic Owuor 2009
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