Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I Have Seen Death

I have seen death. He stands in Nairobi, Kenya at the intersection of Harry Thuku Road and University Way.

It is important to understand that Nairobi is a city with few - if any - traffic lights, nevermind crosswalks. Nairobi is also a city with a lot of cars. They are often driven with a speed and an aggressiveness that rivals any New York cab driver. These cars hurtle around corners, spewing noxious exhaust from their tailpipes with little regard for the heavy pedestrian traffic that is also present in the city. Without the nuisance of traffic lights, their speed can be unchecked save for the presence of other cars.

I have only seen two crosswalks so far during my time here. In both cases, the crosswalks were marked very clearly on the street, and there are little boxes with red and green flashing men - red meaning stop, and green meaning walk. However, there are no traffic lights to enforce these little boxes, and no buttons to signal that there is someone waiting to walk. As far as I can tell, they change from red to green and back to red again completely at random, and the cars pay them absolutely no heed. I am convinced that they have been installed as a security blanket for westerners. Even if they prove to be no use at all, it makes us feel better to cross the street with the knowledge the little green man says that it is alright that we do so.

So, basically, anytime I walk anywhere, I have no choice but to throw myself into this rather perilous situation.

Everyday on my way to work, I must cross the intersection of Harry Thuku Road and University Way twice - once going there, and once coming back. In both cases, it is necessary for me to do so during rush hour. Basically, there is a large traffic circle in university way, and Harry Thuku road runs through it. Crossing the street requires four mad dashes across oncoming traffic. It is in this situation that my knowledge of game theory has become useful. I never cross the street by myself. I will wait on the corner until at least one other person is standing beside me, waiting to cross the street. When that person walks, I walk as well. I make sure to put that person on the side closest to the oncoming traffic with the idea that if a car hits one person, they may stop therefore sparing the walkers in the middle or opposite edge of the group.

On a completely different note, it's nice being around when there are other researchers around. One of the other graduate students is renting a studio apartment as he's going to be here for quite some time. He invited me over yesterday for dinner, and we may be going out on Thursday night when another of his friends are getting in. I can only hope that there will be other researches in the other places that I am going during this trip.

Finally, it looks like I might be going to those other places sooner that I expected. Research is going well and it looks like I'm going to be finished very early. It makes me feel like there is something wrong with me. I am too quick. I am too efficient. Why does it take everyone else weeks and weeks to finish similar projects? Perhaps I am a superhuman - the equivalent of the scientist superhero.

Okay, maybe not.

PS: I would have updated yesterday, but the internet was clearly broken. I tried three different internet cafes, and it was broken everywhere. Such is life here in Africa. At least we haven't lost electricity for more than a few hours yet.

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