Matatus define Nairobi culture

It is impossible to talk about Nairobi without mentioning Matatus; the public tansport vehicles that have come to define the Nairobi culture.

Be it the reckless way in which they roam the traffic ridden roads or the artwork on their bodies or the loud raggamuffin and reggea sounds blasting through the windows making passengers deaf to their thoughts of daily hustle and bitternes, this has come to be the reassuring feeling that lets you know, umefika Nairobi or Kiamatawa as our friends from Central province love calling the city.

What would Nairobi look or even sound like if all matatus were replaced, say with undergroung and overhead trains? Would sheng survive, would private motorist restore their dignity, would we sing along to Popcarn, Mavado and Busy Signal in a club or shout, “thats my song”?

This, is how a culture is born;
Call it basic transportation, a means
Minibus, Nissan, Shaq, bus, the means
Call it the bitter option
Tariffs that change like a woman’s moods
Peak, bamba fifty
Off peak, ni mbao tu

I am still on the prepaid service a
and as I take my seat in the Matatu
The tout aka Kange taps me
I haven’t even warmed my seat yet
Manze ngoja kwanza niwarm kiti
How I wish I was on postpaid,
My own ride, not just a car.

How I dread it,
The humiliation of walking and waiting
Jammed network like Thika road in the morning
Congested in traffic I cannot even connect home in time
Taking route no. 11
From Industrial area to Kibera
From Haile selasie to pangani
A walking Nation

Waiting in a never moving queue like the Mau Mau
Our parents outside villages collecting passbooks

The humiliation, of waiting for a matatu
like waiting to take a piss
Some funny guy breathing down my neck
Breath stinking like the korogosho dumpsite
The harassed look on my face
The guy is violating me,
I can practically feel his!!! Thing
Swelling, pushing on my butt!!!
The coming look on his face,
is enough to make me feel like
I’ve just been raped in broad day light
I warn him as I move in front
Ah! Unaniskuma!
The guy smiles.
I shift my hips as if dancing a Jig
A dance with no beat,
as some lady cuts the line just in front of me
Hey you!
Who do you think you are?
Why are you hiking me?
Panga Laini Kama wale wengine
These queues, this Menace
Can’t live with them
Can’t live without them
Like a nagging woman
Who happens to be the mother
Of your kids.

I call it a way of life
I call it a culture
A mad, mathree, menace culture
Tell me,
How many of your friends spin or drive
Whatever jisty name you wanna call it
Drive even towards the end month
When mwezi uko corner
Call it figure of speech
What does a corner have to do with the month?
Just say you are broke
To the point that after queuing for an hour
You are told “Mat ni soo”
The look on your face,
Like someone walked in when
You were committing an unnatural act

I call it a culture
Always carrying extra fare
On three occasions
Rainy days, end month and intended strike
A drizzle, dark clouds even flying shit from a roving crow
Wee Kunanyesha JO!! Fare sasa ni soo!
The Kange shouts out
Like we have just won the war against AIDS and aid
It was just a crow

End of the month is the worst
Peak starting from 3pm
Like the sema tariff
Tutasema nini sisi
Just giving the Kange a menacing look
“Kazi yako hainisaidii”
A sticker on the mat says it for him
“Hatucheki na wathii, tunacheka Na Mbuzi”

I call it a culture with its own language
Beba, kwachu, dondoa muthii
They may not have conceived it
But, like the Virgin Mary, they carried it
In their mind womb- their tongues
Manze Jo! Skia hii story!

Unto us, a sheng was born

Our language, our way of life, our culture

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