I am driving up a small side street towards a major road somewhere in north London. It is Saturday afternoon; a few minutes ago the rain stopped so I can still see tiny pools, puddles and trickles of water on paths, pavements and roof tops of Victorian houses in this ancient, interesting city. Nothing unusual except that a car has suddenly opened doors, two young guys are getting out blocking the road. I have to break quickly.
As any driver in any large town knows it is normal to encounter mindless, reckless, unpredictable motorists, pedestrians crossing without bothering to look, in a hurry to catch a bus that might leave any second, elderly people struggling up busy routes; cyclists battling against vehicles and the constant yelling and finger pointing amongst various road users.
These are the constant, continuous hazards of driving in urban areas. In developing cities like Mexico City, New Delhi, Lagos, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Bangkok or our own Dar es Salaam you could add the loud noises and sounds of animals (pigs, cows and chicken), kids and touts selling goods, bawling their lungs out. Oh yes, city life is hectic and rowdy.
Trinidad born writer, V.S. Naipaul, the 2001 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, describes this feel in his book “India: A million Mutinies Now” (1990).
“The visitor coming to Bombay from the airport, might see only small dark men in an undifferentiated crowd, and dust and fumes; might see, between the concrete blocks, a mess of makeshift huts and the parasitic shelters those huts spawned, one kind of dependence leading down into another; might see what looked like the unending smallness of men.”
So as I halt abruptly, I wish it was for a different circumstance. The usual modus operandi would be a mother trying to bring out a baby from her car; therefore, forgetting her door is blocking the path. That one is understandable since mothers and their babies are like a disaster waiting to happen. You expect them from every corner; out of school yards (dropping other kids) into super markets and shops. You have to be cautious; and as a driver it is second nature; be careless at your own peril.
This, however, is not a mother and baby but two young arrogant fellows charged with machismo and testosterone lunacy. Their age could be early twenties, the mannerisms scream as much as their selfish attitude.
Luckily, I was not speeding so my breaking to avoid their car’s door is effortless. Nonetheless, despite being cautious and dodging knocking them; they both give me bad looks (that say go to hell) waving arms in the air in that wronged image similar to Jesus Christ being crucified.
London displaying a good example of short fuse reaction; a reaction you get from the smallest, mundane, trivial situations. People on edge; over reacting.
A friend was telling a story about an angry chap eager to fight at a crowded market the other day.
“I am watching this guy walking then accidentally bumping into two other guys talking to each other. They are deep into their conversation and he is obviously not looking. So who is wrong? Yet, he turns around and starts calling them names. Very short fuse.”
“Absolutely!” he says, “ money, desperation, tension and selfishness.”
In “Body Language” published in 1970, American psychologist, Julius Fast argues that as children we are free with both our bodies and emotions but learn to hide true feelings as we grow up. Mr. Fast compares this acquired defence mechanism to being crippled. “And so we smile our way through the day, though in fact we may feel angry and annoyed beneath the smile.”
To many across the universe urban life means employment, prosperity, education and opportunities. But it all makes us jumpy and egoistic.
Back in the 1970’s Tanzania writers and musicians assisted the ruling party’s campaign to stop rural citizens running to towns and cities. Even a major Kiswahili movie called “Fimbo Ya Mnyonge” highlighted this policy. The whole campaign was like a crime does not pay philosophy.
Ujamaa policies argued that countryside was paradise.
Whereas rural life in Africa today is akin to poverty, in rich countries only the wealthy can afford the relative comfort of rural paradise. A paradise considered better in terms of fresh air, natural warmth, relaxed atmosphere and less stress; without the uptight short fuse of city dwellers.
-London, Monday, 14th February, 2011.
Published in Citizen Tanzania