I’ve got a new zinger for my Swahili street lingo arsenal: tunachukua mathree (we’re taking a matatu)! In Swahili tatu means “three”, so a matatu in sheng is a “mathree.” This new response is way better than getting upset because, in addition to leaving everyone in the vicinity laughing, it establishes several things all in one go:
- I’m not a tourist
- I know sheng
- I don’t want a taxi
I guess it’s a new tactic I’ve developed in the last few weeks, just in time for Randi’s visit. One thing that peeves me about being white in Nairobi is that everyone thinks you want a taxi. I’m pretty sure I’m a statistical out lier, but I really hate taking taxis. Unless it’s late at night or someone is dying, I’d rather take a matatu. Maybe I’ve turned over a new leaf, or maybe I’m just in a good mood because Randi is here; in any case, I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson.
I never liked using the “I’m gonna walk away” tactic when you’re haggling on prices — it seems so cheesy and fake. Can’t we just skip the pretense and talk serious business? You know, business where you name a fair price and I counter with another fair price? Maybe you give me a price which is so fair I just take it without any contention. I guess those days are over, or it’s just all about getting lucky and ripping people off these days. In any case, I’ve found the “walk away” is a relevant and useful tactic to use in small business transactions. This is especially true in situations when there is one consumer and many suppliers: getting a taxi.
For instance: I know the price of a taxi from Westlands (around The Mall or Sarit Center) to my house on Church Road should be around 200 Kenyan shillings (three US dollars?). They don’t know I know that, so they always inflate the price a few hundred shillings. Because I know the price is 200 I just walk away and all the other taxi drivers start yelling at me to get in theirs. Of course this maneuver scares the crap out of the original guy, who immediately comes running after me yelling, “Kuja twende!” (come, we go!). I never meant to scare the guy out of a sale, I just figure that any of these guys can offer me the same product so why should I waste my time telling the guy, “Wee, si mbali. Church Road ni hapo tu!” (man, it’s not far. Church Road is just there).
This is even funnier because I hate taking taxis and I think haggling is ridiculous! Sometimes you just can’t avoid it, though, and I think I might actually be getting better at it.
I don’t want to go see the lions in Masai Mara. And while we’re at it, no, you can’t shine my sandals. I’ve said it before and I can’t reiterate it enough, being white in Nairobi is annoying. I don’t know what’s wrong with white people in Kenya, they’re either too rich or too lazy so they zip around in taxis. Well I’m not rich or lazy, so it annoys the hell out of me when I’m walking in Nairobi and taxi drivers relentlessly ask if I need a taxi. I’ve been good lately, but I know enough Swahili to be pretty rude to those guys.
I guess it varies with my mood. For instance, yesterday was Friday so I wore jeans to work and everyone was a bit relaxed. I was meeting my friend in Nairobi for coffee after work, so I was feeling good. I had just been laughing and enjoying the evening when some guy offered me a taxi. I simply told him, “Si endi mbali” (I’m not going far), and I guess he liked that because he responded, “Poa, asante sana, ndugu. Karibu.” (cool, thanks alot, brother. You’re welcome.). hat’s how it’s supposed to be, and I always feel bad when I diss ’em.