12.02.2005

Genie Crossing


'Run over me, will you? Oh, stop crying, Major Healey, this will only hurt for a millenium.'

Genies on the Road

from AllAfrica

NAIROBI, Africa - Long-distance drivers have tales of children who appear from nowhere to cross a desolate patch of the road or the beautiful women who hike for lifts and disappear halfway through the journey. Fact or fiction?

One Friday in April last year bus driver Samuel Osiago was driving Easter travellers along Nakuru-Kisumu Road when he saw a man roasting maize in the middle of the road. Time? 3am.

"I had heard a lot about apparitions and I had been warned by other drivers never to brake or swerve. The maize roaster was just ten metres away. I was cruising at over 100km an hour. So I just ran over him," he says, flatly.

There was no thud. No dents. No maize cobs and no maize roaster under the bus. While driving at speeds that required split second decisions, many drivers have left the usual gory mixture of human flesh, twisted metal and blood on our roads.

Sometimes, drivers say, it happens when they're braking or swerving, to avoid; a "child", a "gorgeous beauty" or an "old woman", crossing the road.

"I have seen many apparitions while driving at night. They are mostly children or naked women crossing the road. This happens near a bridge or during a misty night. But I usually hit or drive through them," says Nyangoro Mong'are, drawing from 20 years driving experience.

Are apparitions real or are they figments of the drivers' imagination?

Peter Kisebu 76, has been a tour driver for 49 years. He swears never to have spotted any. But he believes they are real.

"Several of my colleagues have seen them near Mariakani on the way to Mombasa. Those who ignore and ran over them survived. Those who did not died and caused the death of others. I have lost several friends that way. But apparitions are nothing but genies."

Genies are spirits in Muslim mythology.

They are believed to take human or animal forms that have an influence on humans through supernatural powers. But some drivers claim to have seen more than human forms.

Njagi Mwirigi 37, a freelance tour driver offers a different experience. Around Kibarani along the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway, he heard someone shout his name.

"I was alone in the van and the voice sounded like a passenger on the back seat. When I turned, there was no one. Right ahead of me I saw a trailer overtaking a car. They were not there before the voice called my name."

David Kamau, a freelance tour driver since 1974, also believes apparitions exist, although he has never seen them.

"All the drivers who have come across them could not be cooking up stories, but how come they are never spotted during the day?" he poses.

But Makarios Kubaga, a driver for 18 years recalls one afternoon when he ran over red cows at Samburu; along the Nairobi-Mombasa Road. "I saw hundred of cows file across the road about five metres away. I had heard about them, so I just drove over them. I heard a bang, but on inspection, nothing had been damaged," he says.

That prompts the question: How come most passengers - even those seated next to the drivers - never seem to spot these apparitions? (at least those interviewed for this piece said they only heard of them from the drivers).

Dr Marx Okonji, a psychiatrist, says that apparitions are nothing but mirages of sensory perception, "There is no prove that they exist. And those who claim to have seen them, only misperceived things out of diminished lighting. For instance when there is no enough light, a tree or a shrub might take the shape of a person and a dog might be mistaken for a lion."

He adds that repeated misperception might be taken as real because apparitions, are a normal perceptual response out of fatigue. And again, most long distance bus drivers on average engage in substance abuse that results in distortion of perception. He explains that paranormal activity results in scepticism, which, in turn, spurs superstitious folk stories that are easily believed when repeated.

Psychiatrist Dr Frank Njenga also concurs:

"Scientifically, apparitions don't exist. They are simply illusions, caused by exhaustion, sleep deprivation or use of psychotropic drugs such as miraa."

In Hit and Myth, Sean Tudor notes that most apparition encounters are attributed to the hypnotic effects of driving along open road stretches at night.

Certain locations may trigger hallucinatory experiences under particular conditions, especially for lone motorists. Which explains why long distance drivers cause accidents along the dreaded black spots.

"Black spots are usually near a bridge or river like the ones at Ruaraka and Muthaiga on Thika Road," says Muchiri Njogu, who has never seen an apparition in the ten years he has driven on the Nairobi-Mombasa route.

"The closest was an accident I witnessed at the Man-Eater black spot after Voi town. The driver who survived, said it occurred as he swerved to avoid a woman who was crossing the road at night. Fifty people were killed and no blood was spilled. But the bus had hit a zebra and its blood was all over."

"Black spots," points out Fr Bartholomew Michubu, "are found in specific areas where there have been cases of human sacrifice. And apparitions are real as they are actually, haunting spirits, or demonic interruptions." So would hanging a rosary on the rear-view mirror, as most of drivers do, scare them?

"Not really," he warns, "On average people hang them out of superstitious beliefs. That doesn't help, which is why drivers still cause accidents irrespective of having them. One must pray, especially to St Christopher, the saint of journeys and archangel Michael, the fighter of demonic spirits.