Living My Little Dream[4] – Matatu

“For God so love the world that He gave his only begotten Son…” the preacher yelled on top of the many voices in the middle of an extremely noisy matatu bus.

Whilst in a secular society, we may turn around and give a “be-careful-because-this-is-religion-in-public-space” look to our friend, this preacher has not seemed to attract any attention of the locals on this matatu bus. Suddenly, the bus screeched a stop and the driver dashed out of his seat aggressively bashing an alighted passenger on the side of the bus. It appears that such passenger has not obeyed the order of the ticket conductor and attempted to disembark at an illegal spot of the road. While the busload of passengers nervously examinedthe drama which has erupted, the passionate preacher had ran out to break the fight. Ultimately, the driver parted from the mis-behaved passenger and the bus continued its journey.

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As the preacher boarded the busagain, he says:
“May the peace and safety of the Lord be with you all!”.
“AMEN” responded by the entire bus at the top of the lungs all at the same time.

This was a recent comicalanecdote of mine on a matatu bus in Naiorbi.

Matatus are chaotic, to say the least. Unquestionably, they are a culture on their own.

Matatus are Kenya’s famed mode of public transport. Whilst a true Nairobian never stops complaining about thecity’s terrible traffic followed by an experience against a “Ma-3”, this transport mode serves the majority of the population as their daily means of transportation.

The name of matatuderives from a Swahili colloquialism meaning “three”. One explanation is that the wagons originally pressed into service as matatucould be fitted with three rows of bench seats whilst other sources suggests that three cents was a typical fare in the 1960s. The vehicles themselves can be anything from run-down Peugeot 504 pick-ups tobig white 20-seaterNisssan minibuses. All matatus will have a driver and tout (conductor) whose job is to fill up the van in record time by shouting its destination and the fare required for the trip. As an actuary, the most fascinating feature of the matatu system is that the passenger fares actually fluctuates spontaneously depending on the time of the day, weather and the traffic condition!

Another unique element of these public transport vans is the art on their body. Graffiti from pop culture, music icons and contemporary topics adorn the sides of the vans in a show of artistic prowess. The more colorful the van, the more famous it is and the more likely it is to attract passengers.In a bid to outdo competition, some innovative matatus are fitted with wi-fi connectivity and satellite TV to lure passengers. Many matatus will play loud music, others with the installation of LED lights becomes a mobile discotheque.According to local Kenyans, there are even matatus which organises speed dating sessions whilst travelling!

Undoubtedly, one could not have truly experienced theNairobian life if they have not travelled on a matatu!