I crashed my car on Monday. I was returning from the Centre for Travel and Tropical Medicine clinic with my middle daughter who’d just had a finger prick malaria test (result: negative – but had to do test as a precaution as she’d had a fever and we’d been to the coast in August), when I drove hard into the back of an unsuspecting Toyota Starlet. (see photo). What an idiot I am.
The accident happened along Ngong road, which is a little like a mini M25 where the traffic is going fast, then slows suddenly to a snails pace, then speeds up again. The problem is that the side of the road is dotted with ‘jua khali fundis’ (craftsmen who work outdoors) such as; carpenters, welders, lawnmower mechanics etc. and cars are always pulling off and onto the stream of traffic at random points all along the road. Not that I’m making excuses, the crash was my fault entirely. I love the Swahili word for ‘knock’ as in, bang in to. It’s ‘gonga’, a little bit onomatopoeic, so I ‘gonga’-d my car on Ngong road. That rhymes.
I was just gazing out of the passenger window wondering why there were workmen with pick axes bare backed and waist deep in a trench along the side of the road, when boom – I looked back and the traffic was stopped still in front of me. I braked hard and tried to steer my tank (1993 landcruiser VX) to the side of the little 3 door hatchback in front, but to no avail, there was that sickening breaking glass, metal on metal sound.
The occupants of the car in front were surprisingly understanding and sympathetic. The driver said: ‘I almost hit the car in front of me too because he braked so suddenly in front of me.’ The favourable reaction may have something to do with the fact that the driver turned out to not be owner of the car.
I explained to my daughter, here is your bottle of juice and a tube of Smarties, we may be here for some time. The procedure is that you don’t move your vehicle off the road, but stay exactly as you were, causing a major obstruction on the road and initiating many curious gazes and sometimes some heckling from other traffic (most often ‘matatus’/buses), until the traffic police pitch up.
Then, out of nowhere was a bang that sounded like a gun shot that went off right where we were standing. Everyone ducked, including the workmen in the trench. It turned out to be a passing car back firing. ‘Oh my God, this country!’ said my friendly crash victim friend. I guess he must have been from out of town.
It also occurred to me then, that a friend told me that she’d been car jacked on that same stretch of road last month when she stopped to pick up her old ironing board that had been welded. On stepping out of the car a thug had put a gun to her chest and three men climbed in the car, took her to the nearest atm (cash point) withdrawn her maximum allowance (once she’d told them her number), taken her jewellery, phone, wallet and left her with the car and keys. This is the new popular form of robbery – ‘get a lift to the cashpoint’ then scarper with as much as you can.
We waited for ages and I put out my little obligatory reflective triangle (on advice from my friendly crash victim friend). After about half an hour along came; a security vehicle with two armed police on board (called out by my husband); a driver from my husband’s office; the slightly more angry and less sympathetic owner of the crashed into Toyota Starlet and finally the traffic police with a very aggressive plain clothed policeman in black suit, black shirt with white collar and lots of gold chains. He started drawing lines in the dust and shouting at everyone.
Everyone (including the police) agreed that it would be madness to go to the police station and make statements etc. I spluttered; ‘what about making an insurance claim? Don’t they insist on a police abstract?’ ‘Oh it’s a waste of time,’ said that car owner; ‘you will have to be charged with driving into my car, then found guilty. You might even have to go to court. It will take months for my insurance company to get money from yours for the repairs and they will have to get lots of documentation from the police. Just sign a piece of paper to say that you were in the wrong and will agree with me to repair the damages, then we can go home.’
I dutifully wrote what he wanted and signed, (after a quick tenth phone call to my husband who was at a presidential function, so could only whisper into the handset). I added ‘I agree to repair the damages - when a quote has been agreed upon by both parties’. It was becoming clear that this accident was going to cost us.
Now I’m driving my smashed up car somewhat sheepishly around until we figure out when we can send it off to be fixed. Plus I’ve got really sunburned shoulders from standing in the sun for an hour on the side of the road. My poor ‘not very well’ daughter survived the ordeal with exemplary stoicism; ‘It’s OK Mummy, it doesn’t really matter.’ The ‘Starlet’ man is having his car fixed now. What a lot of inconvenience I’ve caused. A friend told me: ‘Watch out, these things come in threes.’ I’m not sure that she’s my friend any more. Just found out one of our dogs has tick bite fever, my daughter had flu and I had amoeba last week, so does that count as three?