Road Construction

It’s no secret that Kenyan roads are a bit difficult to navigate. I can’t speak to the cities too much — we’ve done most of our traveling in rural areas. But you really have to pay attention when driving in Kenya.

The roads themselves are generally dirt or dirt mixed with stone. In many places, there are concrete culverts under the road to allow water to pass across and improve drainage. Between these culverts, though, the road has eroded over time, making them enormous speed bumps. Add to that the occasional deep ruts, basketball-size stones laying in the middle of the streets, and the odd utility pole popping up in the middle of everything, and you have some challenging driving situations.

Honestly, it took me a while to figure out whether we were supposed to be driving on the left or the right. In reality, most drivers take the path of least resistance, and only move over to the left when there’s oncoming traffic.

Kenyans have also apparently not figured out that it’s much easier to build roads when people aren’t driving on them. There’s very little effort to manage traffic in areas of road construction, and we had to be careful to avoid graters, rollers, and other construction equipment on our way to Mbita.

I also haven’t mentioned the wildlife. We have regularly had to wait for cows and goats to get out of the way. There are always people on the road, sometimes very young children who quickly learn to stay out of the way. In the southern part of the country, we’ve also had to wait for zebras and wildabeasts in the road, though that hasn’t been a problem in the Lake Victoria region.

The amazing part in all of this is how the drivers handle it. They don’t slow down for cattle. The cows will get out of the way. They take the bumps in stride, and just try to find the best path through the mindfield. In particularly rough patches, they just drive around that part of the road. There are some places where there are two different alternate paths around bad stretches of road. No worries. They just do what they need to in order to get through.

Kenyan RoadSo after four or five days of bouncing around Kenyan roads, you’d think we’d be ready for anything. You’d think wrong. While visiting schools on Thursday, we came around a bend and saw an enormous pile of dirt. They’re working on the road. Behind that pile was another pile. And behind, that, another one. There were about 20 piles, each clearly a dumptruck load. The material looked like a combination of dirt, stones of various sizes, tree roots, and whatever else happened to be around.

On top of the piles were about five guys with shovels. They were rebuilding the road, by hand. Our thought, riding in the back of the truck, was, “Great. There’s no road. Now what?” The driver, though, just turned left. Who needs roads? This is Kenya. He just went around the construction, and we continued on our way.

Kenyans have a remarkable way of dealing with adversity. It seems like nothing bothers them. They just continue on and face the challenges. No electricity? No problem. They have battery backups for the critical stuff, and candles or oil lamps for light. Too many kids and too few desks? That’s all right. They can share. No safe drinking water? They collect rainwater and use it for drinking.

In North America, we learned from The Lion King that “hakuna matata” means no worries. I’m learning, though, that the attitude is more one of “there aren’t any problems we can’t overcome” than one of “we’re going to ignore our problems.” Let’s hope they can apply that same attitude to some of the education challenges they’re facing.