Sunday, September 6, 2015

Tuk Tuk Country

Kisumu is literally swarming with tuk tuks.

Image from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/Tuk-tuk_in_Nairobi.JPG
Their hunched-down stance and three disproportionally tiny wheels give them a stubborn, beetle-like appearance reminiscent of schoolyard bullies, which impression their drivers (riders?) only reinforce with unconventional methods on the road. It’s not uncommon for a tuk-tuk to swerve straight into an oncoming car’s path and come to a dead stop a few inches away from impact. Thereafter the tightest of turns and they resume their precarious journey, leaving any road users they may have offended with a blast of hard words.

Riding in the tuk-tuk is no glorious adventure either. It vibrates like a 1960s diesel generator, whether stationery or on the move. That vibration may tickle you or make your nose itchy especially the first time. The entire journey your bones will collide against one another and your nerves will wince. As though that were not enough, the drivers (riders?) have a penchant for finding potholes in the road and hitting them with suspicious relish. The initial impact judders the vehicle’s frame, throws all occupants into the stratosphere, and the descent also ends badly, with one’s bum forcefully rediscovering the thinly upholstered seat, and, depending on whether one was braced for it or not, one’s limbs colliding with the insides of the vehicle.

Now the insides of a tuk-tuk are a safety hazard all by themselves, the roof and sides being manifestly a meshwork of iron rods welded together, over which a tarpaulin is spread and fastened. Some painted iron panels make for a lower body and doors, which the driver (exclusively) knows how to push, slap and fasten the latch to open or close. The quality of welding of metallic parts justly earns condemnation, wrath and censure, because injudicious handling of those roughly welded and unsmoothed rods and panel edges could easily end in a cut, especially when the driver (rider?) swerves across the road just to throw everyone into a pothole or a bump. Funny thing is, you never hear the driver (rider?) exclaiming as all other passengers do at these jarring occasions. His right hand immediately wrings the accelerator, his eye scans the road for bumps, off we go again.

And the contraptions are hardy. If ever they topple over, as three-legged monstrosities are bound to do, the driver merely sets it right side up and continues as though nothing happened – assuming the unlikely scenario that the welding works therein did not mangle the occupants beyond help. 

By the look of things tuk tuks are here to stay, being affordable for the masses, and durable for their owners. Also, apparently, the drivers of today’s carbon-fiber cars fear nothing more than a clash or even a close brush with a tuk tuk, and everybody knows why.

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