We are in the middle of the Nanyuki matatu station, where we had eager ticket salesmen coming at us for at a moment. Luckily, we had a helpful Kenyan with us. The receptionist at our hotel had offered to walk to us to the station and was now, in aggressive Swahili, finding us a good bus and negotiating the price for us. She turns to us and smiles, gesturing into the matatu with an open palm.
“You will just wait for it to leave,” she says slowly. “Just take a seat and relax.”
Relax we did…for two whole hours until all but one seat was filled. During this time we saw the same vendors pass our window twice each. We had a short Swahili lesson from one particularly entrepreneurial vendor. He was trying to sell me jewelry, but I ended up paying him to teach me a few phrases that I don’t even remember now. Then, because he was loitering at our door (because I kind of hired him for a few minutes), the ticket salesman accused him of blocking customers and a fight nearly broke out (oopss…kind of my fault). We then saw chickens being carried into the station by the bundle—who knew you could bundle chickens by tying their feet together?
Finally, the driver was starting the matatu. Ahhh the sound of that engine turning was the sweetest sound in the world that day!
This was not our first matatu ride, but was the most interesting so far. As our clock tick passed the two hour mark of waiting, I was beginning to feel impatient. But I think about all the things we saw at the station that day, just looking out our window, and I remember that getting there (or waiting to get there) is half the journey. It just so happens that in this case the waiting to get started getting there part took twice as long as getting there. With patience and creativity there are many ways to get where you’re going in Kenya:
Matatu/Minbus: There is a saying about buses in third world countries, and it certainly applies to matatus in Kenya: How many passengers can you fit on a Kenyan matatu? One more. Just when you think that one more person could not possibly fit on the matatu…one more person gets on. This doesn’t apply to longer rides on direct lines as much…you might cram a few extra passengers in for a couple of miles. But on shorter rides, there is always room for one more. I have not seen a driver or ticket salesman turn down a passenger because of space constraints yet. Additonally, matatus are hot and dirty, the seats are shaped for deformed bodies (seatbacks seem to curve in all the wrong places), and seat bottoms are made for people with either a) flat butts or b)lots of extra padding. On the upside, matatus are cheap and they go everywhere, and many times a day at that!
Bushcar/ Maruti: So, how many passengers can you fit in a Kenyan Bushcar? One more. The saying also applies here. If you read about our DIY Safari in Samburu, you read about Bushcar. Bushcar is a small jeep-type vehicle that we borrowed from a Colorado friend who does work in Kenya. Bushcar doesn’t really have shock absorbers or taillights, the back bumper is falling off on one side (what’s a bit of extra rattle anyways?), and the driver’s-side window crank is optional. Or detachable. Whatever you want to call it. This vehicle is made to seat five…or 8…or 13. It depends on how many eager Kenyan children trample you to get in for a game drive. Our max was 9 kids and 4 adults. Did I mention that the area behind the seat (some call it the trunk, we can refer to it here as the standing passenger zone) fits about 5 primary school kids? We took Bushcar on many game drives, rattling and bumping and shaking so vigorously the whole time that none of us really tried to say much; We couldn’t hear each other over Bushcar anyways. Mostly what we said to each other was, “You have to speak up.” Eventually we just stopped trying and, when in motion, resorted to tapping, nudging, pointing, and even the occasional gentle kick when a hand just wouldn’t reach where you needed it to. With Bushcar, we also got to experience the Archer’s Post Town Gas Pump: purchase 6 one-liter water bottles full of fuel, dump into tank, and rock the car back and forth to slosh the fuel to where it needs to be.
Piki Piki/ Motorbike Taxi: Before today, I had never ridden a motorcycle! We are now in Maasailand, Kenya, south of Nairobi. We don’t really know where we are—we’ve been told it’s betwee Kiserian and Kajiado. We are doing work in the area, at the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center, which is 5km from our hotel. So, we hired a piki piki. I was a little nervous at first, but once I got on that motorbike and felt the wind in my hair I was worry free. Just kidding. There was no wind in my hair because we were only going about 15 mph down a dirt road the whole way there. And I’m not just saying that to make our parents less nervous about the motorbike thing either! Even at 15 mph it was fun. And yet another first for me.
On foot: We were in Archer’s Post for a couple days before we retrieved Bushcar from the mechanic. Without the modern automotive convenience we are used to, we had to walk places. One thing to know about walking through bush country in Kenya is to wear thick-soled shoes. On our first walk I had thorns sticking me in the foot more often than I would have liked. Another thing to know, if you’re a woman, is to never let leg show above the knee. The wrap skirt I was wearing on one of our walks had a tendency to slip around and cause the inch above my knee to show. Never again! As if I don’t get enough stares here! I’m telling you, a Kenyan man can see a white woman’s thigh from a mile away! Luckily, I was with two males—one of them being our best Kenyan friend Apin. Lastly, mind the beggars. There are many. They can follow you more easily on foot than any of the abovementioned transportation methods. And follow you they will!
“Give me a pen (Geev me ay pen),” one kid begged us as we walked by.
He and his friends followed us and after a few more tries for a pen, they decided they wanted a lollipop, then my sunglasses, then our money. At this one, I couldn’t contain my laughter. These kids followed us for about ten minutes, despite our giving them nothing and telling them we had nothing.
‘Geev me yo money’ will forever be stuck in my mind, each word pronounced slowly and individually.
Private Car Hire: Private car hire is glorious. In a private car with shocks and clean seats I can take a nap. And that’s that.