Monday, January 08, 2007
On Sunday us volunteers took our first matatu ride into downtown Nairobi. A matatu is a minibus that takes passengers on a route into and out of the city, basically everywhere. Riding a matatu is unlike any bus or taxi ride in the United States. There is no schedule for the matatu. You just stand on the roadside and raise your hand at the stop. If a matatu is too full it will pass the stop without even slowing down. Traffic in Nairobi is fierce and you have to be careful for an approaching matatu that doesn't plan to stop, or it will surely run you over. If it is a busy day some matatus will offer standing room only, but this is only if you promise up-front to pay the ticket if it is pulled over by the Kenyan police. This is because it is a violation of traffic laws to seat more people than the capacity that is clearly painted on the outside of each matatu. When this law is not enforced many matatus will allow double the passengers, including very small children and farm animals. If you choose to board the matatu you must board quickly because matatus hate to stop for anything or anyone. As you climb on to the "motor-sardine can" you will be approached for the fare by the "conductor." The "conductor" is a plainly dressed man who spends most of his time hanging out the side of the matatu dodging oncoming traffic. As you stand among the seats you must also be aware of pickpockets as both of your hands are occupied tightly gripping a rail attached to the ceiling. A pickpocket's favorite mode of transportation is the matatu. It is very difficult to hear the conversation among the passengers on the "fancy" matatus because it's passengers are greeted with loud, blarring rap, hip-hop, or reggae music. One very common theme for the interior of a matatu is "pro-marijuana". Many feature graphics on the windows with the slogan, "Don't step on the grass, smoke-it." An American's first ride in a matatu is surely an unforgettable experience!
Posted by tim at 5:35 PM