Matatus for the people

April 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

Last weekend I braved my first matatu ride. I’d go as far as to say I enjoyed it. Like a fun park ride, being on a matutu involves paying too much to be jostled and bumped about, while music blares and you question if you’re going to make it off again.

As one travel guide suggests, matatu’s run on ‘more or less fixed routes’, and as I’ve discovered, at a more or less fixed price. More for wazungus, more when it rains and more in peak hour. As private operators, they understand the rules of supply and demand and apply it with out mercy.

While regulated in theory, this private ownership combined with Nairobi’s dependence on matatu transport, may also assist the lawlessness for which “matatu mafia” is known. Recent regulation has dictated that matatus can no longer be kitted out with spray painted designs, but many matatus have retained their ‘street’ names – being emblazoned with monikers such as “Favour” and “Weezy” (might be the diesel fumes).

On a subsequent trip (during which we got horribly lost, but also took a great tour of Nairobi’s outer suburbs), we were promoted to the front of the minibus. Our driver, chewing khat all the way, tested our bible knowledge (we failed to recognise and recite Matthew 6:1),  lectured us on the ills of America, and admonished us for our lack of Kenyan history knowledge.

The deafening music, alternately Kiswahili hip-hop, reggae and more traditional Kenyan music (Benga), allowed him to continue believing we were Austrian (“Austria, where Hitler comes from”) despite our insistence otherwise (“No! Kangaroos!”).

A week on and I’m feeling quite expert. I don’t seem to get overcharged as often and I’ve  sussed out a couple of essential routes. I may even stop closing my eyes and clenching my fists each time my transport takes to the sidewalk to overtake a traffic jam.


Entry filed under: Everyday, Nairobi. Tags: , , .

Meatless is murder

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Radio Nairobi is written (and photographed) by Jesse Dean, as she spends 12 months in Nairobi



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