Matatus are the primary form of transportation in Kenya. A “matatu” can be anything from a 14-seater Nissan minivan shuttling people around town, to a full-size bus ferrying dozens of people across the country. For those of you who’ve never been to Kenya: if you’ve ever ridden BART in San Francisco, a dalla dalla in Dar es Salaam, or a tuk tuk in Mumbai, it’s more or less the same concept; you pay money and they take you places!
Unlike the tame, old buses in Malawi, or the polite motorcycle taxis in Rwanda which provide helmets for their passengers, though, Kenyan transportation is driven by greed and is full of attitude. It’s just the Kenyan (or at least Nairobian) way I guess, but matatus are loud, obnoxious, break all the rules, drive like they own the road, and piss off everyone around them… but I like them!
As a passenger it’s perfect, you just hop in and get straight to thinking about more-important things than the crazy Nairobi traffic! Let the matatu driver fight with all the other matatu drivers, pot holes, police men, etc. I use my daily twenty-minute matatu ride home from work to catch up on things like text messages, emails, thinking about groceries, planning the week, etc. In a strange way, I feel like it’s the only down time I have during the day.
From time to time you do get a bad one, though… matatu people are some of the most unpleasant people I’ve met in Kenya. In my experience they’re rude and unrefined, often yelling things like “Harakisha!” (faster) at women passengers carrying babies/groceries, increasing fares ridiculously when it starts raining (even just a drizzle!), pulling at your hand/shirt at the stage, etc.
Basically, matatus are a pain in the ass… unless you’re in one.