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BLOG: Africa's traffic jams and a police escort - by Susie Weldon

October 4, 2013:

Visiting different countries in sub-Saharan Africa as part of my work for ARC has given me a unique opportunity to compare … African traffic jams.

Nothing has yet topped – or should that be bottomed? - my Nairobi experience of setting off for the airport nearly five hours before my flight, only to find myself scrambling, red faced and perspiring, through check-in with just minutes to spare. Apparently a top Kenyan politician had been travelling through Nairobi and the police had cleared the route for him, causing the entire city centre to go into gridlock.

The Tanzanian coastal city of Dar es Salaam is very different to Nairobi; low-rise and laid back with earth that’s been bleached a pale silvery white, as opposed to Nairobi’s red earth and high-rise, high-octane bustle. But when it comes to traffic jams, it’s up there with the Nairobi’s of this world. You can easily spend an hour travelling a distance that should take just 10 minutes on a clear road.

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that we realised we would have to hold our education workshop in a venue that was some distance away from our delegates’ accommodation.

The two-day workshop, held last week, brought faith groups, environmentalists and educationalists together to look at integrating faith values into teaching on the environment in Tanzania’s schools.

It was a wonderful opportunity to consider work already being done in Kenya, where ARC launched a teacher’s toolkit on faith-based education for sustainable development in July this year, and Tanzania where the Jane Goodall Institute runs a successful programme with young Muslims in coastal communities.

The only problem was how to get our delegates to the venue – Dar es Salaam’s lovely Karimjee Hall – in time to participate in the workshop each day?

The solution turned out to be the most fun any of us have ever had on a bus. Our partner in holding the workshop, the Jane Goodall Institute, persuaded the government to give us a police escort there and back.

And so twice a day a police motorcyclist arrived dressed entirely in white, from his helmet to his uniform and even his gleaming white bike. With his police siren wailing and two buses in hot pursuit, the delegates clinging on as we screeched round corners, he magically parted the traffic for us.

It was the most extraordinary road journey I’ve ever experienced – and brilliantly co-ordinated. As we approached each roundabout, police officers were already holding up the traffic, leaving us to swoosh through unimpeded like that Kenyan politician.

Two lanes crammed with stationary traffic? No problem. Charging in between them, the police motorcyclist forced cars to squeeze aside, even crawl up pavements, to make enough space for us to get through.

At times he even took us down the wrong side of the road, into oncoming traffic. It was a little hair-raising to find ourselves facing two lorries whose drivers seemed paralysed by the sight of the convoy heading straight towards them.

But we made it to Karimjee Hall safely. Best of all, we had a brilliant workshop – engaging, challenging and inspiring.

The only downside is that having a police escort has spoiled me for traffic jams from now on.

Nairobi condolences

No mention can be made of Nairobi without expressing our sorrow and horror at the recent terrorist attack on the city’s Westgate Centre.

One of ARC’s key partners in Kenya, Dr Dorcas Otieno of the Kenya Organisation of Environmental Education, usually goes to the Westgate Centre every Saturday afternoon. It was only due to the fact that she was with us in Tanzania that she was not caught up in the tragedy.

We are grateful, not only for Dr Dorcas but for all of those whose lives were spared. Our deepest condolences go out to the families of the dead and injured.

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