Shecyclesnairobi often gets queries via e-mail, on how to navigate from a particular residential area, to a workplace, from mainly foreign nationals moving to Nairobi to work, and hoping to keep on commuting by bicycle here, as they have been for years in their home countries. We try to be honest with them; the dynamics will be significantly different here, as there is very limited to no separation for Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) in Nairobi and Public Service Vehicle motorists rarely follow conventional traffic rules. However, it’s rare for cyclists to get crashed by motorists, but the numbers of such crashes are low, largely due to a low number of commuter cyclists.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an invitation to join, Shorts on Wheels on January 29, 2017. A bicycle tour segment of the ongoing Nairobi Film Festival 2017. Riders who did not own bicycles and helmets were suitably supplied by Baiskeli Adventures, who also helped map out the route to each film venue. Participation was free, with the exception of the bicycles and helmets at Ksh 400 per set.
Cyclists and some motor cyclists gathered at the Goethe Institut Nairobi on Monrovia Street. Baiskeli adventures assigned suitable bikes and helmets to attendees and Goethe Staff handed out goodie bags containing an apple, a banana, some roasted peanuts and a large bottle of water for an energized ride ahead.
Start: Goethe-Institut Nairobi Auditorium
The group walked in through an orb-shaped hut video installation built for a collaborative showcase by artistes Sam Hopkins and John Kamicha. Beyond the installation the room was set up with benches for movie-goers to watch “The Bike Gang” by the same artistes; a series of short films on the bicycle sub-culture in Nairobi.
The group of riders snaked up Monrovia Street, onto Muindi Mbingu Street onto University Way and down the Uhuru Highway onto Valley Road, up Milimani Road onto State House Avenue into Statehouse Crescent to PAWA 254. Everyone sunk into the plush, comfy auditorium seats for “Flight Path“, a short film by Cinematographer Willie Owusu. The story told as a monologue, spoke to the hardship of immigration and a sense of uprootedness one feels when elsewhere.
The ride to the next venue started along Denis Pritt road, onto Olenguroine Road onto James Gichuru Road and on to Kanjata Road. Mostly a smooth downhill. At The Elephant, famed for the monthly live music event, “Live At The Elephant“, the cyclists were welcomed to food & drink by Fresh and More, and sat beneath the shade on the expansive back lawn to eat, get acquainted and recap the morning’s experience.
In an upper room set up theatre-style, the group of nearly one hundred riders watched Finnish filmmaker Laura Horelli’s, “The Terrace“. This film is a memoir in photographs, voiced over by the filmmaker herself, of her early childhood living in Nairobi and returning to retrace her steps. One thing that struck me about this film, especially in the current atmosphere of curriculum review in Kenya, was that she went to a public nursery/kindergarten in Nairobi, as “the education system in Kenya in the ’80s was very good…”.
That was quickly followed by “Yellow Fever” by Ng’endo Mukii, a multi-award winning, animated drama that explores colorism and identity crisis that fuels the skin bleaching industry in Africa.
End: The Alchemist Bar
The group trundled along Muthangari Drive onto St. Michael Road onto Rhapta Road onto Kileleshwa Ring Road and across, the now closed, Westlands Roundabout and up Parklands Road to The Alchemist. The Alchemist is a small creatively set up, oasis in the hubbub of the Westlands commercial area. It features several food outlets, shops, a bar and little halls for hire.
The cyclists huddled into a small darkened room where the film “Wada” by Khaled Mzher was projected onto a wall. At eleven minutes, the shortest film on the tour was “Sea of Ash” by Michael MacGarry, described as “A poetic re-imagining of Death in Venice, featuring a West African immigrant to Italy who embarks on a journey from the Alpine mountains to the seaside and ultimately, on a doomed voyage home”.
I have to say that the routes and rides were hustle-free mainly due to the low motor traffic on Sundays. Volunteers in the group, helped hold up traffic for the group to cross at roundabouts, which helped dispel fear amongst the large number of commuter cycling novices.