Matatu travelling for dummies:

I had never thought I was a brat, I mean when I lived with my parents I did chores every kid did and even had to have jobs and babysit bratty nieces to make my pocket money, so when an acquaintance called me a spoilt brat I was very indignant. Her explanation for terming me spoilt was that I had never been in a matatu.

I’d never needed to travel in one as doting parents, siblings, friends parents or drivers either picked me or dropped me from point A to B when I was younger or I walked wherever I needed to go and now taxi’s provide that service for me- ok so maybe I do sound  abit privileged.  

Being headstrong I decided to prove a point to her and myself by challenging myself to use public transport, especially matatus or ma3’s to get to my destination and it has been two weeks of adventures galore.

Since I had no idea how to even board one-I actually put on my highest gladiators and a short skirt the first time and after tripping over my own feet  and giving the tout a free peekaboo session of my privates I learnt my lesson-I got my friend Michelle to teach me the ins and outs.

Apparently I needed ‘loose’ change (not in the least way was this terming money as a ‘cheap tart’). Michelle patiently explained giving a manamba(tout) 500 or 1000 Kshs would result in outrage and a lot of scoffing. Slippers were also a necessity for ladies to board and un-board unless you were comfortable and agile in heels (a duck would strut better in them than I would so I was glad to realize I could place them in my bag and run around in my ‘flatties’). I also learnt if you needed to stop and alight you wouldn’t have to wait till you got to a official bus stop but you could say “shukisha” and you would be dumped unceremoniously at your stop.

Armed with this knowledge and a few practice runs with Michelle, I decided to try it out on my own and some of the adventures I have had are unbelievable and true growing experiences. On one incident on my way back from town to Parklands (and contrary to common belief and stereotypes not all Indians live in Parklands) a tout tried to con me out of an extra 10 Kshs! I bet he could smell fresh meat when he saw me and like every man of business he decided to try his luck. Being green and cowed by his bullying stance I reached into my bag to look for an extra coin when a young gentleman stopped me and questioned the tout in Swahili “Kwani, you’ve charged me 20 and you are charging her 30 for the same journey?” at which 3 other passengers berated him in their mother tongue making him apologise to me. I have never felt so proud to be part of a Kenyan community before, I almost expected a band of musicians to appear at that moment and sing him to damnation.

Then came a terrible experience where I ended up sitting next to a man who had never heard of oral hygiene-his breath stunk like a dead rat had used his mouth to use as it’s final resting place and for some strange reason he would keep turning to me and let out deep sighs making me nearly pass out with the stench. Then there was another episode where I ended up sitting next to a rather friendly woman who gave me descriptive tales of child birth, menstrual cycles and all because I had said Hello and we were stuck in traffic. I cursed my mother for teaching me to be polite and kind to strangers!  By the time said woman had reached her station I knew everything about all 15 of her grandchildren and how Martha didn’t want  to marry as “she liked to lie with women”-her words not mine, Njoroge and his wife had stolen her boma and 17.5 chickens and her 12 year old niece had just become a ‘woman’ –you get the picture.

Oh and don’t get me started with the racist nutter who kept uttering prejudiced comments every time he saw a gaggle of people of the same ethnicity! For instance: when he saw a group Of Asians he chortled, “Ndugu go slow aw tuta kula Chinese Takeaway” and when an Indian man cut in front of us my buddy chortled in a thick Indian accent “The roti isn’t running away!” and “He is practicing for his job promotion in New York for a taxi driver!” . At which point I started looking around for candid cameras.

And then I met a fan who recognized me from television and said “You look different in person” and I wondered how he had recognized me if I looked so insanely different. He also said sulkily, “Yesterday you picked the wrong no 1 song, it should have been …” like I’d done that specifically to spite him-I mean forget what international charts are saying worldwide, if *Geoffrey deems it no 1 material then it must be! Ingrate.

But my best experience has to be when a tout who was hearing impaired and a driver who was the kindest human (yes kind mat drivers do exist-unlike flying pigs and unicorns they aren’t a myth) who took me to town from Hurlingham. I didn’t even know the tout couldn’t hear me or was speech challenged until he asked me for my fare-he was unbelievably competent, sweet-that smile could light up a Christmas tree, and he had some sort of innocent charm. I wanted to take him home and feed him lasagna. And the fact that there was no blaring music was a treat for my ears.

I also loved the fact that matatus are so cheap, well affordable. Being an Indian, anything that’s a bargain delights me. For example, A journey from Westlands to Yaya Centre that usually cost me 1500/- cost me under a 100 Kshs. And did I mention I hardly ever was stuck in a traffic jam thanks to their insane driving. They may be the bane of motorists worldwide, but for the late employee they are the difference between being fired and keeping your job.

Verdict:  So would I continue using public transport? Of course-it’s easy on the pocket, I get to my destination speedily, and it’s cheap cheap cheap. I could do without rude, annoying and unmannered touts and fellow passengers but I have a solution for that now; I place headphones into my ears and all I become invisible.

Vox pops:What ahve your experiences been when using a matatu?

Gupz Saund:

 I never got late to school when using matatus in school and it’s cheap.

I used to go school with a matatu everyday and they even became my friends and on many occasions they would not charge me.

Dicky Hocky:


Once I dropped my IPOD in a matatu, and a guy followed me to where I was heading off to and he handed it to me- that almost never happens!!it was a miracle and a pleasant experience!!


They [ conductor] can be so annoying. The conductor kept increasing the fare on my journey this 1 time-when I entered the matatu he said 30 and then he increased it to 50/- for no reason. So frustrating!

Fred Juma:

They are generally not too bad as they get me from point A to B but whenever passengers decide to let gas out, that’s when I detest public transport.

Published Sept/October 2010 The Star


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