Kenya

Why I Like Matatus

Matatus are the primary form of transportation in Kenya. A “matatu” can be anything from a fourteen-seat 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 California, a dalla dalla in Tanzania, or a tuk tuk in India, 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 that 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.

6 Comments

  1. They are the most scary when you scrape past one while in a jam, on a bridge, in the dark in what seems to be a very dodgy part of town :( Intense times….

  2. Felix

    My take on matatus: No Greyhound or National Express this beauty. I had boarded a VIP Express, 14-seater new second-hand ex-Japanese Nissan which now held 20 adults, three kids, two babies, at least six chickens, a young goat, some very pungent smelling baskets of herbs or something, plus the driver and a conductor youth. The vehicle ran on flattish tyres, very little suspension, a definitely un-synchromeshed gear system, and lots of prayer. The amount of exhaust fumes it churned out was equaled only by the amount of cigarette smoke the closed windows kept in.
    Atop this thing of wonder – wonder that it could move – was a miracle of balance and of hope. A mattress, some sacks of used clothing, a bag of maize, assorted suitcases with strange Chinese names, and a cage with ducks all took their place on this slightly rounded roof, held on (just about, and sort-of) by means of a fretwork of ropes and twine which Nelson`s boatswain would have been proud of.
    This whole moving cacophony was a matatu – one of the kings, the gypsies, the wide-boys of east Africa`s roads.

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