Monthly Archives: May 2011

Why I like matatus

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.

Long finger nails

What’s with Kenyan dudes and long finger nails? I first noticed it a few years ago on a high-school aged kid in Kitui. I was a bit weirded out when I saw that both of his pinky-finger nails were strangely long and manicured, as if they hadn’t been cut in two months or so. I thought it was just this one weird guy, but since then I’ve seen it on all sorts of other guys (never women), including a few guys at ILRI.

I’ve heard of people having a long thumb nail for guitar picking, but this is just bizarre. My imagination runs wild with what it must signify…

  • Drug dealer: uses the pinky finger nail to count/sort/weigh cocaine.
  • Drug addict: uses the pinky finger nail to snort cocaine.
  • Mungiki member: pinky finger nail indicative of membership to the Mungiki criminal / religious / political Kikuyu sect.

I’ve never felt brave enough to ask someone with the finger nail affliction… but I asked one of my street-savvy buddies and he said he’s been asking himself the same question for years. Does anyone have any insider information? What’s the deal?

Fish are peculiar

About a month ago Cassandra bought a fish tank and populated it with a few fish; a Plecostomus, four Platys, and a Siamese. What started as a fun weekend project has turned into a strange month of fish keeping…

From the get go the Siamese chased everyone around. I was getting so worked up watching him relentlessly pester the other fish that I kept offering to throw him out the window to show him who the real big fish was. Eventually we moved him to his own tank, but then the Platys started going at each other. “It’s just fish politics, you wouldn’t understand” I kept telling myself, but then I wanted to throw one of the aggressive Platy males out the window too. Fish politics aside, everything was going along “swimmingly.”

Or so we thought… One day the aggressive male Platy was bottom up. A few days later Cassandra came home from work and found Atilla (the Siamese) dried up on the floor next to his tank. We replaced the Platy and threw in a handful of guppies for the hell of it, but he’s been acting weird from the second we dropped him in the tank! I’m not sure if he’s playing dead or actually dying, but he lies down on his side all day, occasionally swimming to the top to grab some air or food or something.


I think we’re single handedly keeping the two fish stores in Westlands “afloat”… maybe they’re poisoning the fish so we have to keep coming to buy more? I don’t remember where I used to get my fish when I was a kid, but I swear those things lived for years. Are “county fair” Goldfish really just that hardy, or are we doing something wrong?

Update (1 day later): Platy died… but mama Guppy gave birth to thirteen babies… the balance has been restored!
Update (2 days later): Another Platy dead… she had been very pale for a few weeks, behaving very strangely. Another Platy gave birth, though, so we’re still at a net of like 10 fish!