Because of my personality and also because of the way I move around Kenya – namely by foot, bicycle, matatu, bus, and motorcycle – I encounter the average “Joe Kenyan”-on-the-street in a more personal and up-close fashion than do those with their own cars.
I like it that way. It’s what I do.
Most of the time, rubbing shoulders like this is quite charming. Generally speaking, Kenyans are extremely friendly and they maintain a simple outlook on life. I find both of these traits quite attractive.
Recently, I boarded a matatu at the end of the driveway where I live. As is typical, the conductor was in his twenties or thirties. Wearing a golf-style cap, he kindly ushered me into his vehicle. “I see you going to town every day”.
“But, I don’t go to town every day. Even now, I’m just reaching Karen dukas.”
We shared the same seat because he had squeezed in too many passengers. After a quick five minutes, we were almost to my destination. He hadn’t yet taken my fare, so I tapped him on the shoulder. “How much do I owe you? 10- or 20-bob?”
“Today… twenty. Tomorrow I’ll only charge you ten,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“Okay, thanks,” I said as I alighted and handed him a “pound” (twenty shilling coin). A charming encounter.
Another day, I was again waiting at the end of the driveway. I signaled a bus to stop for me. The cumbersome vehicle rolled to a stop just ahead of me, kicking up a huge cloud of dust as it did so. Pausing momentarily on the shoulder, it leaned awkwardly to one side.
The smiling conductor hung on precariously as I jogged towards it. “Karibu (welcome). We’ll take you to Nairobi.”
Climbing up the steps as the vehicle simultaneously climbed back onto the road, I struggled to maintain my balance. The passengers had no choice but to bounce along wearily, lost in their own thoughts.
When I stood to alight at Karen shops and gave him my fare, he said, “Oh, you’re only going this far with us. Good day.”