I was just riding the matatu (minibus used for public transport) to work when an mlevi (drunkard) got on the bus. As soon as he saw me he started shouting, “America!” and then something indistinguishable about Jesus. I don’t know if it was in English or Swahili because he was slurring. By now he had put his teddy bear in my lap — I know, what the hell? — and everyone on the bus was obviously staring at me. When I finally understood that he wanted me to say, “Amen” I just smiled and looked nervously around.

How can you out wit a charismatic drunk man with Jesus on his side? I admit I was at a loss for words… all I could come up with was, “I don’t say ‘Amen’.” I didn’t say it too loudly because I didn’t want to start a debate. I guess I shocked him but it didn’t matter because after a few seconds he went on shouting about America and Obama.


I saw something funny today — I see funny things most days actually, but I’ve been meaning to write about this one. According to the stickers on the window inside this matatu (minibus used for public transportation), not only is it driven well, it:

  • Does not carry excess passengers
  • Is operated by respectful, caring, and neat crew

Lucky me! But of course, who am I kidding? They can’t fool me: this matatu is dirty, slow, uncomfortable, and it is completely kama kawaida (as usual). Ok, it’s not hard to find a matatu obeying the watu 14 (14 people) law, but then you get whiplash because the driver thinks he’s qualifying for the Indy 500. Or, your driver is competent but the makanga (conductor) is rude and or over charges you. Let’s just be honest with each other: there is something wrong with every matatu in Kenya.

Waiting for a matatu in Nairobi
Waiting for a matatu in Nairobi

I deal with these guys every day. The other day I was waiting at the matatu stage nearest to my house (about 1.5 km) and a matutu going towards ILRI stopped to let off passengers. I was a bit far from where it had stopped so I started running to catch up. As I got closer the door dude told me, “Fasta fasta, wewe!” Excuse me? I’m already running! I just told him back, almost instinctively, “Usiniambie ‘fasta fasta,’ hakuna kitu kama hiyo. Nimekimbia, bwana (don’t tell me “fasta fasta,” there’s nothing such as that. I’ve run, man). I guess I’m a young whippersnapper so I can handle it, but it pisses me off because they do it to old ladies carrying babies and vegetables, etc.

Hiyo ni tabia mbaya lakini nimezoea (that is bad behavior but I am used to it)!


A matatu called "Carter III" in downtown Nairobi, Kenya
A matatu called “Carter III” in downtown Nairobi, Kenya

Matatus are the main mode of public transport in Kenya. They’re decorated inside and out with pictures, TVs, satellites, etc. The most creative ones are obviously in Nairobi. I always laugh when I see matatus in town because most of them have funny things written on the windshield or body. For instance, they write how many passengers they usually carry. Some creative ones on the top of my head:

  • 14 Passengers (the normal one)
  • 14 Hustlers
  • 14 Blacks (ahh, am I allowed in?)
  • Watu 14 (14 “people”)
  • 14 Warembo (14 “beauties”)
  • 14 Wateja (14 “customers”)

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