The last few days have found me in Haiti, a country I had never dreamt of visiting…perhaps due to my lack of imagination. I seem to have forgotten that the world is actually small; that what goes around comes around.
Just to show you how misinformed I was, I first landed, courtesy of Air France, on a city in an Island called Pointe A Pitre and thought I was in Haiti! It was only after a long conversation with my host that evening as I tried to convince her how green and flat their first city was, that I realized that my first point of destination was actually not in Haiti. The second city that I flew to was Port Prince, the capital of Haiti!
As I drove to my hotel that first evening, we went through a very narrow street with lots of 4 wheel drive vehicles and a number of brightly colored pickups/vans which I later learnt were ‘matatus’(public transport vehicles). Interestingly, there was heavy traffic despite it being a Sunday which baffled me. But I later learnt that the locals are preparing for a major local carnivore in a few weeks time.
The next day, as we drove to the venue of my meeting, I noticed again the same narrow streets which seemed to be a major feature in many parts of this city (Port Au Prince). Principally, there is nothing wrong with narrow streets…but in this city, I saw to my shock, houses or their walls that clearly protruded into what I thought would have been road designated areas. On several occasions, the space left was so little, that our van had to stop to be able to give way to other cars to pass. Plainly put, in a number of the winding roads in the hilly city, there is just no space for two vehicles to pass each other because of the narrowness of the road. I later learnt that the government unlike what we have experienced in Kenya in recent times does not enforce ‘hard’ standards of road sizes, or how far the houses should be built from the road. It appeared to be free for all to me!
A more shocking phenomena was seeing several very steep hills around the city, and I mean really steep, where concrete houses have been built literally next to each other to the point that it seemed they were almost ‘on top’ of each other . It was puzzling as I thought out aloud how the people got access to their homes. As we drove by however, I noticed there were little paths going up the hill, winding up step by step, which was clearly the access route to get to their houses. I was left wondering on what happens to people who are physically challenged. I wished I could have had the chance to climb these ‘residential areas’ and experience more closely what this means for the ordinary families who live up in these hills as a norm! I began to understand why daily at around 5am in my hotel room located in the upper side of one of the hills, one begins to hear an increasing loud mix of all kinds of noises, like the sound of ‘rough’ Indian Ocean, which signify the awakening of the city and the busy families getting on with their day. As I moved on to my third day, I began to understand why heavy traffic jams are a permanent feature of this city; hence a very early rise is sheer common sense!
So, talking of a country where the government appears absent in setting standards for buildings for ordinary (all)! people, enforcing them, ensuring the safety of citizens,ensuring children, women, old people are safe, etc, I actually just saw one! I now realize better than before, that I should be more appreciative of the ‘little’ efforts I see around my city (Nairobi), aimed at increasing order, even though it appears ‘roughly’ done at times.
Janet Mawiyoo - Chief Executive Officer of KCDF
*Picture by Steve Lindridge*