Beware Of The Jom

“You must leave early in the afternoon, before dark…maybe by 3:30 or 4:00 pm, because of the jom,” said Martin, our guest house proprietor. We’d read a lot about the dangers of Kenya’s capital city, beginning with its “Nairobbery” nickname down to the obvious folly of walking out in the African bush…but what was the jom? A carnivorous predator lurking behind the thorn trees? A gang of unemployed thugs waiting to rob unsuspecting tourists? Whatever it was, it was clear that we should avoid nightfall in Nairobi. Martin mentioned it again the next morning and I was starting to understand. “You need to start out a little later today, due to the jom.” Of course. He was talking about a traffic jom.

We’d decided to stay in Langata, a Nairobi suburb, because of its relative safety and its proximity to several interesting tourist sites. Nairobi’s recent commuter congestion problem is a direct result of relaxing automotive import requirements. Previously, Kenyans could only buy new cars from government-authorized dealerships, but in the last few years were able to buy refurbished vehicles from whoever they wanted for a much lower cost. This has created the local monster known as the jom.

I learned this from Bernard, our taxi driver, who gave us an early morning ride – before the jom – to the departure point for our 10 day Kenya-Tanzania safari. Bernard told us that “we must give ourselves at least 90 minutes, on account of the jom.” Bernard was an experienced driver who knew how to avoid falling prey to the jom. About halfway into town, he started taking side streets, pausing at each corner to gauge how quickly things were moving. Bernard’s driving expertise came hand-in-hand with his interest in racing. He was a “spanner boy” in the pit crew for a local racing team, until it was disbanded. After that he drove for a Shell oil executive until the company laid him off. “I have an offer for a job in Qatar…driving an oil truck across the desert. The plice they are offering is too low…but we are still negotiating,” said Bernard, his r’s sounding like l’s because the absence of that sound in his native Kiswahili dialect. Bernard had been driving a taxi for a number of months to support his family. He’s been considering a job in Qatar because a three-year truck-driving stint there would give him a large chunk of capital with which to start a business. “It is a sacrifice because I can only visit my wife and children during holidays,” he said. Bernard was well-dressed, educated, spoke English well and, like most of the Kenyans we’d met, underemployed.

About 80 minutes after leaving Langata, we arrived at our safari company headquarters. Without Bernard’s knowledge of the back streets, the 20 kilometer trip might have taken two hours. We paid Bernard and were ready to start out on our safari and head out into the dangers of the African bush. At least we knew that we would not have to deal with the jom.

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