A road is a place to get from here to there. It is created, and it cuts through space, allowing vehicles to pass at amazing speeds. It is a line that connects A to B. However, the worlds on either side of the road, in relation to that road, often have no relationship to the A and B so desired by the passing cars and trucks. Does that make sense?
Animals cross roads. In Africa, this is a constant, maybe even more so in the Maasai Mara, where shepherds take their flocks of goats and sheep and cattle from one field to the next—or from a source of water to a source of food—on their own journey from an A to B completely different than that of the vehicles on the road. Where they intersect, there is conflict. In a country where approximately 3% of the population owns cars, there will certainly be more animals than people on the roads.
We often waited for animals to pass before we could continue. We would be surrounded by goats and sheep. Maasai with sticks hurried the animals past the car. People with donkeys were everywhere.
Donkeys were everywhere.
Our driver was impatient and never wanted to wait for the animals. He would push through. He would come very close to the animals, or speed toward large cattle in the road, daring them to move or be killed. The car was king. The road was ours, and they were intruders. I saw a turtle head poking above the water in a rain filled hole in the road, willing myself to be lighter in the car as we roared through, hoping we didn’t kill him. He wasn’t in our road. He was in his puddle.
The same happened in the parks as we sped along, daring a small herd of impala on the road to move or be killed. Our intentions collided as they moved one way across the road and we moved down the road. I was aware of it all day, in civilization and the wild.
Surprisingly, the only evidence of cars winning and killing animals was in a short stretch of road outside a town where there were baboons along the side of the road eating garbage. A few baboons were road kill, instead of deer or raccoons or squirrels or possums like I see at home in the States.
And then, I was aware of the other animal always moving around the roads, us: people. There are people everywhere in Kenya. There were always people walking on the sides of roads, on bicycles on roads, crossing roads, moving across this great country from here to there in harmony with the roads or in opposition to the roads. The people crossing roads were often met with the same impatience: move, or be killed.
In Kenya, the more people there are, the more the car becomes king and the more chaotic things seem. No cars slow for people. People must dangerously sneak through and cross when possible. I have been in cars that seem to speed up when they saw someone trying to cross as if to assert their dominance (“Get out of my way—this is my road”).
In the city center and in business centers, pedestrians have no rights; the car always has the right of way. There are no signals for people to cross. Speed bumps slow the cars momentarily, but do not provide protection for the people who need to get to the other side. The people bunch up on street corners until a critical mass is formed, and then they push into the roads, forcing the traffic to stop briefly as they rush through. People run across interstates and roads in Kenya where no human being should try to compete with fast moving cars. But there they go. A mad dash, then they hug the cement median in the middle of the road and climb over, before a second mad dash. It is wild. It is chaotic. It is dangerous. Animals and cars. People and cars.
From Thompson’s gazelles in the road, to Maasai shepherds with herds of cattle, to boys with goats to people running to avoid fast traffic, I saw it all.
At the very end of our trip, as we entered Nairobi, we passed a body in the road; an elderly woman who had been hit moments before by a matatu. As we were forced into one lane, I saw her lying on the ground right outside my window, face down, on the road where people were crossing haphazardly and dangerously where no human being should be trying to cross. The front window of the matatu was smashed and smeared with blood.
I felt sick. I have never driven past a dead body before.
When I took this photo in Lake Nukuru earlier that morning, I remember turning to my driver and saying, “I will call this photo ‘Life and Death’.”
This article originally appeared in Richard’s blog, The Collapsable Space Between Us, and is being reprinted here with permission from the author.
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Cover photo: whatleydude/Flickr