By Bernard Wainaina
If you ever ask me what really defines me as a Kenyan and calls my patriotism to attention,it is sitting in a Kenyan “Matatu”,a mobile syllabus of chaos and sheer madness.
It is funny how such a crude culture as that of matatus makes my heart swell with patriotism.
When I’m driving in my own car,I normally envy the other Kenyans seating comfortably in a Matatu,patiently trusting the driver to weave them out of Nairobi roads traffic jams,or throw them into a roadside ditch in the process.
It is funny how political rallies,big ones,like the last “Saba Saba” rally do not appeal to my sense of patriotism like Matatus.
We may be lacking inspiring leadership in Kenya for us to turn to worshipping the chaotic Matatu mentality.
Whenever I am away from Kenya the thing I miss most, is the chaos… and in particular the energy and edgy violence of the
They cut up other drivers, run over pavements, do anything to gain a few extra inches of space on the road and everyone else
can go jump.
Yet their drivers are capable of sudden, unexpected, not to say disconcerting, courtesy.
I remember one waving me into an otherwise impenetrable line of traffic with a cheery grin.
And of course they entered Nairobians’ hearts in the aftermath of the 1998 embassy bombing when they queued up to ferry the injured to hospital, turning their vehicles into makeshift
They didn’t charge a cent.
On the debit side, they habitually increase fares without warning at the first hint of rain, or anything else that might slow them down and prevent them raking in their usual profits.
All this probably explains why most commentators, pressed to find an appropriate adjective to describe how city folk feel about the matatus, talk about their “love-hate” relationship with the crews.
The late John Michuki, who made a robust transport minister,reined them in a little by making the crews wear uniforms,carry a maximum number of passengers and stick to speed limits but it did not, could not, last.
The main effect of the “Michuki Rules” — apart from the realisation that matatus could actually be curbed, although successive governments seem to have forgotten that important lesson — was, alas, to abolish the crazy, imaginative liveries of the matatus and replace what really was a living art form
with a dull, white body with that horizontal yellow strip broken to mark the route and, now, the name of the owners’ Sacco.
True a few of the names survive — The Redeemer and Bill’s Gal with a picture of Monica Lewinsky spring to mind — but
it really is not the same.
I recall one Nissan 14-seater painted to look like a huge spider’s web, silver on black, and another decorated with trompe d’oeil to look like a mobile CD.
We all have our favourites and you will remember yours as well.
Now their glory remains as a faint echo in the curious stunts of the touts — the makangas — who run alongside their moving matatus, leap in and out, or hang from the doors, all
while grasping Ksh10,000 ($116) in Ksh50 ($0.60) notes between the fingers of one hand.
They usually communicate in sign language because of the loud, thumping music and use
a secret code to raise prices and warn each other of police traps ahead.
Some people find them entertaining.
And so to a point do I,but only if the alternative amusement on offer is a severe bout
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®