In Kenya, a matatu is how you get from point A to point B. A matatu is a public service vehicle, crammed with lots of stinky humanity (Alice not exempt from that statement) and possibly chickens. Maybe a goat.
They were fast. They were scary. They had to make announcements like this on Kenyan radio: “Please remember not to drive on the sidewalks, as it can be dangerous.” True story.
A matatu was required (by law) to have a cool name painted on the side like ’Love Injection’, ‘The Combine’ or ‘Thugalator’. Dave claims he saw ‘Big Titty #1’ AND ‘#2’. A matatu generally carried a placard in the front window letting you know its route. My favorite driver gave me one from his matatu and a friend had the other one made for me:
CAST OF CHARACTERS
The Driver – Man who drove, generally with a big, scary wad of miraa hanging out of his mouth. Wouldn’t want the driver to fall asleep behind the wheel now would we?
The Tout – Collected money. Hung out of the matatu yelling the destination. Penchant for snapping fingers and clicking tongue to get attention.
Saved Man Passenger
SM: Have you taken the Lord Jesus Christ asExtra Stinky Man Passenger
your personal savior, praise God, Hallelujah?
Alice: No. I’m Hindu.
Alice: It IS possible to breathe through my
mouth for the next 45 minutes.
Big Fat Mama Passenger
BFM: Habari yako? Blah blah blah... (in
Swahili at lightening fast speed)
Alice: If you speak slowly, I can understand (this was said in Swahili, but I’ve lost what little grasp on that I had.)
BFM: HAHAHAHAHAAAAA… (This is honestly how it went until I pulled out a book.)
THE WESTERN MATATU
The Western Matatu is a pickup truck in which the bed has been revamped to accommodate benches along three sides. I only took this particular type of matatu ONCE, reaching new levels of misery. For an hour, I was wedged in the back, where one of my thighs wasn’t actually touching the seat because it was resting on the thigh of the woman next to me. I emerged like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time and promptly stumbled out the back because my right leg was completely numb. With several kilometers of walking still ahead, I had to stand by the side of the road for five minutes beating the blood back into circulation.
Any small minivan was called a Nissan, whether it was actually a Nissan or not. My village got these puppies a little late in the game, but they were by far the best option for me to get to Mombasa quickly. You had three rows in the back, each holding 4 people. Two people sat in front with the driver.
Music was generally Bob Marley or Lucky Dube and they DIDN”T stop for folks with large items. If you could get a seat in the front, you were golden. You just had to be secure in foreseeing your own death as the driver passed on a blind curve.
The mini-bus was what I rode about half the time from my village to Mombasa. This matatu was larger than the Nissan, but smaller than an all-out bus. Music was generally The Ace of Base at ear-splitting levels. The downside of this matatu was that it was large enough to accommodate people with lots of THINGS. Like bananas. And mattresses. And 5 gallon drums of mnazi. Mnazi is the fermented sap from a coconut tree. Mnazi smells like wet gym socks left in the sun for a week. Mnazi tastes like wet gym socks left in the sun for a week. I witnessed Kenyans yelling at drivers NOT to stop for a person hunkered on the road beside drums of mnazi. But it gets you drunk and I suppose that’s what counts.
From the mini-bus – you made the leap to actual bus. Malindi Bus was known for its extraordinary speed and rumor has it that a Malindi Bus passed a driver in the 555 Safari Rally. They really weren’t too bad since you didn’t get the overwhelming packed-in feeling of the smaller matatus. And there was the added luxury of knowing you were on the safer side of an accident because of sheer size and brute strength.
Now that you’re a pro, just remember to haggle price BEFORE you take off!
(Pictures are from the internet since I apparently took NO matatu pictures in Kenya. Please don't sue me.)