Nairobi Traffic Jam as ‘Microcosm’

Okay, imagine. You pull to a stop behind the last car in a traffic jam on a two-lane, two-way road. You are in a small vehicle. You sit there patiently – knowing full well that at some point someone up ahead will move so that the line of cars can pass (this being a regular occurrence on any normal day in Nairobi).

But large buses begin to swerve around you onto the walking path on your left and into incoming traffic on your right in order to bypass this little ‘jam’ or at least make it a briefer annoyance. You say, ‘that’s a bit foolish’, but keep your calm and patience intact. Within a moment, there is now a three lane jam going one direction on a two lane multi-direction road. You aren’t going to move any48712135_3427fe8201_z
time soon.

So what do you do? Do you sit there – and never move forward as buses constantly swerve around you cutting you and the opposite-direction’d drivers off? Or do you join in on the ultimate game of ‘me-first-ness’ – all the while mumbling ‘harry potter like spells’ against the individual who started this mess?

Of course you join – you have to. You are now a willing (or borderline unwilling) participant in the obnoxious game of ‘I’m going to beat you first so that you can’t beat me’ – that is, you must now learn to cut-others off to ‘survive’ or at least to just make it to your

And now you are pulled into something you don’t want to do – and doing this day after day finds your typical driving disposition being one of hostility and potential rage if you don’t cut someone off before they have the chance to cut you off. You are now becoming the kind of driver that you despised from the very beginning. You are now a participant in the never-ending, constantly escalating game of me first-ness.

So there it is: these traffic ‘jams’ (at least in Nairobi) are merely a microcosm for what is wrong with the world. Self-interested actions on some people’s parts within the self-interested system often create a (perhaps) unwilling, but needed self-interest in order to remain part of the game. For many, it is inherent, while for others it is only a learned skill in order to navigate the harsh world of unequal starting points and unequal opportunities. And for others (it is a needed reaction) but eventually becomes an unwanted internal disposition.

After all, it is only severely frustrating to lose at a game of ‘car jam’ – but it’s quite another story to lose at the game of ‘providing for one’s family’. This is a whole different story when it is between your kids eating dinner or your neighbors kids eating and yours going hungry. And for many of our brothers and sisters in the slums whose lives are situated so near to risk and danger every day, that one small inability to get ahead or advance past a fellow businessman – finds oneself ‘biting the dust’, literally and/or metaphorically.

How does one speak of loving one’s neighbor in such circumstances as these? If one’s life is situated so close to tragedy and risk, where is there room for the spacious love of God that we proclaim so ardently in the Church?

Does the kingdom of God indeed proclaim another reality of fullness and life than the one we witness every day which is full of scarcity and lack? If so – who are they – and where are they that practice and show such a reality to be true? And if this fullness and life is possible for each person – rather than just for some – what are the actions undertaken as the Church to eliminate such fierce inequality? Do we all then in some way willingly or un-willingly participate in what prolongs the unending lack and need of so many?

Published by Ryan Hayes

Ryan Hayes is a development practitioner, teacher and co-author of his first book of poems, Paralipomenon. Being born in Nairobi, Kenya and living most of his life in Africa, he has a wealth of experience and understanding into the cultural and linguistic factors of South-East Africa. Ryan is happily married to Justine with whom they have begotten three beautiful girls – Amelie, Lily and Rylee. He is a lifelong learner and devoted student of Jesus, mysticism, quantum physics and the human psyche.

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