Celebrating East African Writing!
The third day was a very familiar one with issues such as punctuality and buying of lunch coming up. After my third practical lesson, I went to complain in the offices that the time I did spend on the road always differed from the time allocated on their prospectus. That wasn’t good communication as far as I knew, and still know.
“Wee Jaluo wacha siasa hapa! time haijalishi. (you Luo man don’t create issues here. time’s not an issue.)”
My major complain was resisted. However, one of my issues was solved by assigning me a different instructor. My new instructor was comparatively punctual when we met the following day.
We took off slowly and drove for about 300 meters when he suddenly asked me to halt. I didn’t know why we were stopping until I realized he wanted to warn a vendor woman selling fruits and vegetables by the roadside.
“Kanjo wanakam nyuma.(the city council officers are coming)” he shouted to the woman.
The Nairobi city council officers are known for searching for those who invade paying for their business licences. A business is illegal without a business licence, and there’s no compromise for that. In this case, the woman had no business licence and how my driving instructor knew it, I also don’t know.
She tightened her leso first, and began stuffing her wares in a large nylon bag in a hurry, but was told not to hurry for the officers were still at a distant. She therefore took her time stuffing her wares while chatting with my instructor as I waited patiently. Somehow it did not seem as though my instructor had work at hand.
“ Can we proceed now ?” I asked politely being cautious. My instructor looked at me then at the woman and turned to me again.
“Weka mafuta ( accelerate!)”
It was not until the second day with my new instructor that he started becoming ‘hungry’ during the lesson. He asked for his ‘lunch’.
“Isn’t this a a holy month and from your name, I should think that you would be fasting like your other brothers and sisters! What’s the lunch for? huh!” I said to myself immediately he asked for lunch from me. I did not want to offend him, and so played mum.
After a few days with him, I decided to take up one more lesson and then try out a B class vehicle. The B class vehicles were available at the city centre.
At the city, I was delighted to be assigned a youthful instructor whose youth, to me, was a symbol of hope and I expected him to be such. He was about 24years of age and I hoped to be more free with him than I had been with the other instructors.
We belted up in a saloon car at exactly 10:00 o’clock as scheduled and we took off at around 10:02 am where he drove me first to a distance place away from the large traffic in the city centre.
It was a journey from the city centre through Haile Selassie avenue to Uhuru highway and towards south B. where he stopped, 20 minutes later, to give me a chance.
It was smooth going as compared to the lorries, but 10 minutes later before I could completely enjoy my lesson, I was asked to back-crawl near a residential area where he took the ignition key and walked out behind some roadside kiosks. No word was said to me as I remained seated in the car.
He came back twenty minutes later, opened the door, sat on his seat and asked me to proceed. I looked at him again, his face was then shinning and I concluded that whatever he had taken, whether tee or coffee, must have been hot. At this point, I had saturated my anger mode.
In Nairobi, everyone knows how expensive food is at the city centre,. Somehow, I let my new instructor aware that that time for my lesson was not to be converted into his breakfast time.
“It seems to me that you´re only consuming what’s not yours” I said.
“Wacha! unataka time ama kujua gari ( Do you want to have time or the knowledge to drive a car!) he answered angrily. I however challenged him to stop arguing over time when he knew that even his boss would not entertain such nonsense. That, to me, was unprofessional. I felt sad to be rubbing shoulders with each of my instructors, but I thought it was about time someone pointed out their unprofessional behavior.
Immediately we reached the city centre, I walked straight to the office and requested to have a female instructor.
Apart from the numerous phone calls she made and received during our lessons, my new female instructor was better than the rest. I took my last three lessons under her instruction and waited for my examination. I had already rubbed shoulder with enough people and therefore didn’t mind if she called her hair salon or dedicated her time checking her face occasionally on the mirror during my lesson. I was compelled to use time at hand to drive carefully knowing that I was technically on my own in that car.
Three days before my driving school exams, another potential trouble popped up my way; The theory teacher was receiving a lot of ‘lunch tokens’ from other candidates, yet there was nothing from me. He finally reached me and took me a side during a short break to explain to me why it was essential for me to stop ‘being mean’.
“The 15 days that you guys spend here are, of course, not enough. So, we give this cash to your examiners to make them understand, otherwise none of you would pass the exams, or just very few would pass if any.”
That was too tough for me to tackle alone. I was not employed and the money I had used for the driving-licence packaged had been given to me by a relative. There were no stipulations of extra moneys before exams were to be taken. So I had no idea how to broach the issue thus asked the theory teacher for more time to look for the required cash of Ksh1000.
In a bid to look for help to tackle that emerging problem, I walked out to send a text message to The Integrity Centre and fifteen minutes later, I received a phone-call from The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission at Integrity centre.
A gentleman introduced himself to me and asked me to show up at the Integrity centre for a talk.
As I walked over the fly-over across Haile Selassie avenue away from the Kenya Polytechnic, I met Joseph, one of the candidates who was also to take his driving test together with me. He was walking lazily in front of me, obviously tired. we chatted for a while and I gathered that he hadn’t eaten anything that day and that he was walking to meet his friend, a mini-bus driver to ask for a free drive back home to Kibera (The second largest slum in Africa). Well, I sympathized with him when he said that he had no ksh20 for his fare back home or money for lunch. However when he confirmed to me that he had already paid the extra Ksh1000 for our examiners, the sympathy I had for him disappeared. His message was, indeed a shocker.
My journey to the integrity centre from my driving school was fairly long, I walked across Uhuru park (freedom Park) hoping that I was doing something to free my country from a vice. The usually green Uhuru park was no longer green due to inadequate rainfalls, and the more I walked the more my black shoes were turning brown due to dusts.
On my arrival at the Integrity centre, I surrendered my passport at the reception and was allowed in. Up the stairs I went and reached the first floor to begin a fresh explanation since I had mispronounced the name of the person I had contacted and as such it was difficult to meet him.
While still reporting my case in one of the well designed chambers situated on the left side from the entrance, a voice came to save me from repeating myself. I could recognise his voice not his face; we had only talked on phone. He was smartly dressed and the smile on his face assured me that I was meeting a friendly person.
“Hi Dominic! I told you to to ask for me or my colleague and come straight into the office!”
“Oh Hello! I think I mispronounced your name and…”
I walked behind him towards his office and into a separate office on the left side of the first floor. His colleague was waiting for me too.
“Yes Dominic! have a seat” said his colleague who was in a white shirt with blue strips.
We talked casually, made jokes, laughed a bit and I felt at home. Even the language/dialect they used (sheng) made me feel more comfortable to explain everything without much ado.
The sad news came when they said that they had no powers to stop corruption in the private sector. It was disappointing to learn that all my efforts were fruitless.
“but the examiners aren’t private sector” I tried to argue.
“You are right, see; what we don’t know is whether the money is actually meant for them, and if the cash is to be delivered to them, as said, still we are not in a position to prove that” explained one of the men, rotating a pen on his right hand vertically above his desk. His colleague was staring directly at me with a smile, a professional.
“So the private sector is at liberty to go on and do it? With impunity?” I cried.
The two gentlemen began pressing me to move upstairs to their senior and file a case.
“Oh my God! …to file a court case!”
“Yes! we will give you the needed support.”
“No no. no! You see, my biggest worry is that I’ll be leaving the country soon. So, that means I will be nowhere to attend the court hearings.”
Before leaving their premises, they asked me not to pay any more money to my driving instructors and that should I fail the exams, they would finance my fresh driving course. That was a wonderful assurance, of course.
I wasn’t looking forward to paying that extra cash as well as failing my driving test.
“Wee ishia huendeshi hiyo gari ( just go and drive that car)” said one of the men.
I walked out smiling after some jokes, but immediately I regained my ID from the reception on the ground floor and left the building to begin thinking of my driving school, I was a sad man again. My efforts had been in vain.
The D day finally came, when more than 100 candidates gathered at one centre for their driving test. I was among a group of about thirty candidates who were stuffed in a Lorry and a traffic policeman took control of the vehicle for a while.
He stopped after arriving at a perfect location and called the first candidate to seat behind the wheel. There was tension when the first candidate began with a strange speed followed by an emergency break that steered the rest of the waiting candidates to yell in fear.
I expected the person sitting in front of me to turn behind so that I could say sorry but he didn’t. There was so much tension in the car thereafter. My forehead was in pain. The candidate behind the wheel was smacked twice on his head as the rest of us laughed out loudly.
The next candidate drove over the pavement and received a smack too. The driving distance was also not so long; it was hardly more than 300meters. When my time finally came, I began pretty well and moved softly while the examiner was talking on his phone. He suddenly gave me a sign with his right hand to move to the left-hand side of the road, but I over did it. The vehicle lifted up all over sudden and I knew that I was overstepping the pavement. A heavy punch landed at the back of my head and I felt like my world was ending. 250 meters later, I was instructed to stop and call the next candidate.
I later finished my theory exam, which took less than 10 minutes and went away to wait for my driving-licence, which was expected soon.
In a few weeks, my driving licence with the Initials EAK was out.
Yes, I know that there are many causes of road accidents, but each time I hear of or witness a road accident in EA or EAK, I always think of my EAK Driving Licence and the story behind it.
From the McDonald I went direct to submit my name and register for a driving course, which I genuinely needed. The first Aid Trainer wrote down my name and I felt happy. Perhaps, he thought that I hadn’t understood him earlier. In any case, German has never been my mother-tongue. As such, I would always have the benefit of doubt.
© Dominic Owuor 2009
If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.