Matatu Madness and Road Rage
It was just the other day I was in a matatu, which had, surprise-surprise, riddims playing on the music system. There’s nothing as annoying as that genre of music, and its Kude-kude effect. I don’t mind that, but not when I’m expecting a phone call. You would call it THE phone call; the one that decides whether I’ll sleep hungry or not that day. You can’t knock down a brother’s hustle.
My phone rings. But Redsan and his newly acquired Jamaican patois will not allow me to answer it.
“Badder dan…badder dan…”
What’s a man got to do, but to tell the conductor to reduce the volume for all of about, I don’t know, 30 seconds, as a man follows his Deputy President’s lead and becomes the Number 1. Hustler.
“Buda, si ungenunua gari yako ndio upunguze sauti vile unataka?”
Hold up. Did you just hear what he said?
I wanted to give him the Tywin Lannister death glare, and tell him why I don’t drive. Here’s why:
- I do drive – my dad’s car. Matter of fact, he gave it to me. Free. There was a catch though, I have to pay for its costs should I choose to use it. Fuel, maintenance etc. Now with the Jubilee Government’s motto of tax everything in Kenya from the air we breathe to the sex we’re (allegedly) having (is this why we’re turning to animals? This is our pet project- Betty and I- pun intended), fuel is bloody expensive. You haven’t factored in OPEC’s trigger-happiness, a weak shilling and the ERC, it’s tough being a driver. Then I’m supposed to pay for all that, while still under my father’s roof, with him paying all my other bills? No, thanks. It is much cheaper to use a matatu than to drive.
- Have you ever seen how motorists in Nairobi drive? No, seriously. Please do. They hoot, they break all known rules of the Highway Code and are generally unpleasant. Add me behind a wheel and my propensity for road rage, and things go haywire. I honestly believe I’m in law school for a reason: to introduce something like America’s Second Amendment and Stand Your Ground Laws (which make it perfectly legal to own and carry weapons) and amend Article 26 of the Constitution to read “Everyone has the right to life, except those who are being absolute douchebags on the road. Those fuckers need to die, and it’s your patriotic duty as a Kenyan to make it happen.” Plus there’s the little matter of traffic, and ain’t nobody gat time for that, as a driver.
Of course I didn’t tell him all that. That would be rude of me. I gave him the Tywin Lannister death glare and asked him, “Juu umenibeba bure?”
He reluctantly told the driver to turn down the volume. By then, my contact had already hung up, and I was frantically texting my contact to tell her that I was in a noisy matatu, and I’d call her later. Like it made a difference. Gee, thanks.
“Badder dan…badder dan most”
This got me thinking, why have we made uncouth the new cool? We glorify rude behaviour. It’s cool. Let’s start with the situation on our roads.
We’ve got a twitter trending topic and a Facebook page to celebrate the incivility of our matatu conductors.
We’re cool with how matatu fares drop and hike depending on the weather, number of cops on the road or whatever reason they’ll come up with.
We’re cool with dangerous driving, overlapping, running over traffic lights, road rage and a horrid driving culture.
We’re cool with bribing traffic police to overlook our misdemeanors.
We’re cool with the rising number of deaths on our new superhighways.
When did it ever get to this?
My parents tell me of a Nairobi where buses used to leave at scheduled times, on specified routes and at specified fares. Then someone had the bright idea of privatizing. It would bring competition, they said. Government-run corporations would get a kick up the backside, they’d be forced to provide better services, such that market forces (ha!) would come into play, and equilibrium would be maintained (double ha!). What they never said was that government corporations would be mismanaged and deliberately hamstrung so that they would never get their feet off the ground. What they never said was that they would divert funds from the government corporation to theirs.
Suddenly, you were faced with Scylla (an inept government service) and Charybdis (a bloodsucking private entity). At the time, you were not down with the government. Government was evil, government was dictatorial, and government was incompetent. Private was the way to go, right? “Kupendana wanne wanne kama Orbit” was the norm, fares varied depending on whatever the gods decided on that day. To a 90s kid as I was then, the flashier the matatu, the louder it was, the more badly driven it was, the better it must be. Classic Stockholm syndrome. Then there’s the conductors -guys in the hood wanted to be them, girls in the hood wanted to be with them. Parents in the hood sulked, but there was nothing they could do, accept and move on is what they did.
In the 2000s, your resolve had been tested to the limit. “I can’t live javving all my life. I can’t take this humiliation. Public transport is for poor people.” Fortunately, you had a new government, one that was down with the people. Positive economic growth, easy access to cheap credit, and a “screw the West, we’re looking East” policy meant you could get a Japanese jalopy of your very own. But then again, so did many Kenyans. Traffic jams were the norm, but they were a sign of prosperity. Still they made you impatient, and since your limbic brain is hard-wired not to share, you couldn’t fathom the finer concepts of good road use; like giving way, like stopping at traffic lights (not that they worked anyway), like observing traffic rules (why do that when a cop can be bribed?)
Selfishness has always been the norm, it just took cars and superhighways to prove it. Me first, screw the rest. We speed over zebra-crossings because pedestrians aren’t supposed to be on the road. Same goes to overlapping on the pavement, because we must get there first. All the years of suffering silently in a packed matatu, when one overtakes you, and your ego won’t let you be overtaken. It’s the feeling of elation when you hear an ambulance siren when there’s a horrendous jam and you just know you have to tail it, because such miracles don’t happen everyday and you never look into the mouth of a gift horse.
Uncouth is the new cool on our roads.