Where is that Matatu?
Before you see a Matatu, you can hear it. A cacophony of blaring horns and crackling, decibel-distorting speakers pounding away with the latest hip-hop, reggae or some central African beat will herald its imminent arrival.
The conductor will be hanging precariously from the side of the van, yelling like a banshee and as the Matatu slows down, about 3 million people will leap off. This is your cue to leap on. Forget the physical limitations of the bus (12 to 14 passengers) - they are somehow able to squeeze up to 30 passengers into this 12-seater minibus. How they do it, heaven only knows but believe me, they do!
It doesn’t take long once you’re jammed into the Matatu before the senses are assaulted to a level you never dreamt possible. The jostling, elbow wielding passengers, the revving of the engine, the constant hooting, the squealing of brakes, the ear shattering blast of hip-hop, the shouts of the conductor and driver mixed in with protests from the passengers all make you feel that you’re on an acid trip that’s gone crazily awry.
A Matatu journey is, quite literally, a breathtaking experience. Drivers aggressively weave, bob, accelerate and break their way through cars, trucks, bicycles, carts, motorcycles and pedestrians. Crossing a roundabout island at full tilt is just a small part of the Matatu drivers’ skill set– one which will make even the most hardened passenger just a tiny bit breathless. Sidewalks? Pah! Certainly not an obstacle for the fearless driver if it means the vehicle continues to be propelled onward. And going off-road into the bush is always an option if that keeps the Matatu in motion. Traffic has stopped in one lane? No problem. The two lane road will turn into a three, four, or even five lane highway in the tic of an eyeball. .
All the while the conductor will bellow at people walking alongside the road to get on board. Then he’ll bark instructions to the driver and the Matatu will come to a screeching halt to disgorge some of the passengers and collect others which means a whole new arrangement for the remaining occupants. Be prepared to either be squashed like a fly against the window or to have your face pressed cosily into someone’s backside.
The Matatu will "alight you" anywhere on their route which is very convenient if you can handle the gymnastics required. Rap you knuckles on the nearest window or on the ceiling if you are stuck in the middle and can't reach a window - and the driver pulls over. Immediately. It is then that you join your fellow passengers in a spontaneous game of Twister until you tumble out of the still-rolling van - sprung loaded like a jack-in-the-box. It’s not all bad however - you may even be left carrying someone’s chicken. Don’t even think about trying to get it back to its owner. It’s your supper and, boy, have you worked for it!