Makanga Experience

Wednesday 11 March 2015

You know how they say never judge a book by its cover? Well, this past Saturday that saying came alive for me. I was going somewhere that I had never been before. Actually I was going to Parklands Sports Club- so that we don’t have to keep referring to it as Place A and then I’ll need to also say Place B, Place C, and that’s just cumbersome. I took the Nissan matatu at that roundabout near Fire Brigade, where you get matatus to go to Gigiri, Banana Hill, Ruaka and so on. If you are familiar with Nairobi, you know the place- it’s at the end of Tom Mboya Street.

It was a Saturday morning so there wasn’t much traffic. Even before we left CBD, the tout was asking for money. I had carried a novel to read and so when he tapped my shoulder to ask for money I took some time to put my bookmark on the page that I was reading and then reach for the money in my purse, which was in my handbag- and you know how we carry everything from blow-dryers to shoes to pesticides in those bags so it can take a while. Just joking. He seemed a little impatient and in my head I was like, “Just seriously take it easy Dude, it’s not like I’m going to try and jump off the window without paying!” I hate how they ask for money before you’ve even left town (!) and then hold on to your change until you’re literally seconds from alighting. But I gave him the money nonetheless and said to myself how later I would write about how annoying makangas (touts/conductors) are, and how rude and selfish they all seem to be.

Since I had never been to the Parklands Sports Club, I told him, as I handed him the money, that he should please tell me when we reach it. “Sawa sawa “, he said (Okay). So I went back to my (riveting) book. I had given him exact money so there was no story for change and what-not. I was engrossed in my book but kept looking up periodically whenever we stopped to see if I’d see the sign for the establishment. I remembered Poriot had mentioned that it’s the direction of MP Shah Hospital, when he had been trying to describe to me where it is. So when we reached the junction to go to MP Shah Hospital and the matatu stopped for some people to get off I told the makanga not to forget to tell me when we get to Parklands Sports Club. “ Ai! We already passed it!” He said. “Aahhh, and you didn’t tell me?!” I asked with exasperation. By now he had stopped the driver from taking off. So I alighted and told him “ Haki mbona sasa hukuniambia ?” (Surely why didn’t you tell me and I had asked you to show me the place?) He said he thought that I knew the place and also he forgot!

For whatever reason, I didn’t react as I normally would. I remained calm. Very calm, and surprisingly (to myself) very much at peace. Maybe I AM maturing into a cool, calm, and collected person after all I was meant to be at the venue by 7.30am and it was 7.35am by then, but for some reason I was unfazed. Perhaps because there wasn’t much I could really do about the situation except figure out how to get to where I was meant to be, and getting mad wasn’t going to help too much.

So I asked him if it was a walking distance and I could just walk back or would I need to cross the road and take another matatu. Do you know what he did? He told the driver to go on. He asked me if I had never been to the area, and I told him I hadn’t, which was partly true. I mean I had been to Aga Khan Hospital which is in the same direction, and I had been to MP Shah Hospital too, but I had no idea where the Sports Club really was in relation to those two.

Now I don’t know if I just looked so innocent that he felt pity on me; or if he had just woken up on the right side of the bed and started the day on a good footing, but his actions were nothing like what I expected. Usually when you’ve passed your stop, makangas have a way of yelling at you, dropping you wherever you are when you make the discovery that you been pitishwaad, (i.e. you’ve passed where you should have alighted), and making you feel like it was your entire fault for being slow and ignorant. Do you know what this makanga told me? First he said Pole. The he said “Come, wacha nikuonyeshe” (Come, let me show you).

The matatu had gone by now. We walked backwards, to a small roundabout and then crossed the road. I asked him if I could then walk from there. He pointed to another vehicle in the not-so-far distance and said, “You see that red car over there? That’s where you’re going. You can walk but ni poa upande tu mat.” (You can walk but just take a matatu instead). I said “Okay.” Soon a matatu came along. He told me to get in and he got in after me. He told his fellow makanga that I had gotten lost and was going to Parklands Sports Club. The makanga opened his hand to ask me for I guess sh20 that would be for the distance or maybe sh10, I don’t know. I was ready to explain how this other makanga should pay because it was his fault that I had passed my stop in the first place. But even before I could say anything, my makanga friend paid his colleague and said, “Hiyo ni ya huyu Mrembo” (That is for this girl, well, okay, this pretty girl (insert blush)). First of all when you’re used to being called Mum, the word Mrembo kind of sounds foreign in your ears, but I wasn’t going to protest. Are you kidding me? I would have been offended, come to think of it, if he had said, “Hiyo ni ya huyu Mathee” (‘This is for this [Motherly] lady/woman’, I know, shoot me, self-esteem issues…).

Within a few minutes, literally one stop over, I got off. They both showed me the entrance to the Sports Club. The other one apologized for making me miss my stop. And then they went off. I guess he was going to wait for his matatu in CBD where it would surely return after finishing the trip. I was seriously intrigued by not only his sense of courtesy and politeness, but by his kindness. That he took the trouble to take me back and also pay. I guess it was my right, if you think about it, but if you know how matatus in Kenya operate, you know that rights don’t often come up as a conversation topic in interactions between passengers and makangas.

I don’t think that all touts are rude, don’t get me wrong, but I have met quite many who are. That is why this one matatu conductor on this particular March Saturday morning just a day before International Women’s Day, sure made my day. I hope there are many more like him, and I hope that their kindness and politeness can overshadow the oft-unwarranted rudeness of their colleagues.

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