The Mshipi Chronicles

I still don’t know how to drive… shocking, I know, but there it is. Ok, thats a bit of an exaggeration… let me just say i don’t have a DL. When I ponder about it, I would conclusively say that it’s a matter of blatant disinterest rather than opportunity (or lack thereof). It is purely for this reason that I decided to aptly call the start of this series of articles, the Mshipi (Seatbelt) chronicles, only because I go through these experiences from the passenger seat, and more often than not, on public transportation: as popular in Nairobi as in any other global metropolis (make that any ‘third world’ metropolis).

The route I predominantly use is Kawangware 46, and yes, the journey home is usually as callous and uncomfortable as the title delicately suggests. At the central transportation hub of the city, Kencom Bus Station, one may observe the habits of Nairobians, especially during rush hours. If it were any other capital of the Western world, citizens would be deeply engrossed in one of the latest best sellers as they patiently queue to take either the bus or the train home…but not in Nairobi. To say it’s all akin to a zoo at feeding time would be putting it lightly. Firstly, the bus companies openly exploit consumers: the fare they charge is more often than not, exorbitantly high and continues to sky rocket when people need to get home the most… don’t even get me started about what happens when the floodgates of heaven open on the Central Business District; it’s as if the raindrops fall with currency fertilizer in commuter pockets. Secondly, the commuters seem assuringly unaware of their rights. Why you would make a ‘scramble for Africa’ for a City Hoppa or KBS just to be exploited, is beyond me and thats why I admire ‘the others’ on Route 8 to Kibera. There is no way in hell those individuals would pay anything above 40/= come rain or sunshine.

To say that I’ve seen it all on my daily commute home would be the hugest understatement of the 21st Century. (No wait. Kind of reminds me of this guy way back in the 19th Century who said that this ‘contraption’ known as the television set would never catch on with the human race). Anyway, there happens to be three kinds of people in the world right about now… there are the Arabs, the rest of the world and Kenyans… Kenyans, these very special people with peculiar habits and more often than not traversing global headlines in a plethora of ways. I digress…

This fine Thursday evening, just after a draining day at the office, the early Nairobi night chill ricochetting shivers down my spine as I meander through Kenyatta Avenue onto Standard, passed 20th Century and into Mama Ngina, aka the pedestrians haven within the capital. The treelings that dot the ca brio block tiles en masse seem finally at peace, after an entire afternoon of absorbing dust, sweat, saliva and toxic artificial fumes from cars, trucks and kitchens. Couples are hand in hand, cherishing the few moments they have together after a demanding day at work/college: strolling, standing, on the City Council park benches, pecking, observing and reminiscing. The domineering cylindrical structure that is the Nairobi Hilton beckons, with its chiselled and marbled facade, and as you turn round from it, the vessel-like KCB Centre swallows up the miniscule square peripheried by the National Archives, Galitos and Norwich Union Towers. Then you cross the street and your tranquility is squashed by the hoard of commuters at the Bus Hub. It so happens to be 8.00pm and I’m bewildered as to why there are still so many people here at this time of night, notwithstanding the 24-hr tag the government is trying to slap onto the city’s lapels.

I recollect, it’s end-month. Normally this would be a good thing, but the bus companies always turn this into a boon… it means the mwananchi will cough up an extra 10/= or 20/= just to get home. What happens then is every Tom, Wanjiru and Omondi decides to linger a little longer by the shelters, so that the prices come down. But KBS, City Hoppa and Double M are relentless in milking our mfukos dry; the result is a literal stampede for any bus that comes by. To my left, I witness this primly dressed lady, in a yellow cardigan and lime green jeans trying to outrun a 46-seater bus as she makes an attempt at crossing the street… the side mirror of the vehicle nudges her just enough to topple her over her pumps and honestly the wheel of that bus would have fractured her knee had it not been for the driver’s speedy brake. Meanwhile, a bus pulls up right infront of me and I embrace the opportunity and dash in, only to realize the driver hadn’t really stopped but was moving a couple of centimeters forward. This doesn’t stop the barrage of bodies from boarding the bus though. I comfortably get a seat right behind the conductor and blankly wait till the bus fills up. T-minus 5 minutes later and we are on our way home, the entire space engulfed with silence as everyone settles in and looks forward to reaching their destination. Shortly the conductor takes out his ticketing machine and starts charging the passengers. He happens to be right in the middle of the aisle when the driver sharply applies the brakes of the bus to meet a red light and consequently sends the guy sprawling onto the rubber sheathed floor.

The passengers waste no time in displaying their dissatisfaction with the driver. All sorts of insults hurled at him as the conductor picks himself up, dusts himself off and resumes with his duties. Quiet reigns again, but only for a short while, before this drunk commences with his load of nonsense for the day. Nobody has the energy nor the time to put up with him though, so we all tolerate his antics and outbursts, but what he does before alighting is what had me in utter disbelief. Before the bus comes to a stop at the next stage, he scurries down the aisle and takes over the entrance to the bus, usurps what the conductor was doing and hangs on the door’s edge as he yelps ‘beba gari beba gari‘. When the bus comes to a complete stop, he jumps off, unzips and would you believe it… starts to pee on the others who were alighting! Other distraught ladies vehemently refuse to alight and the bus has to move on to the next stage. All in a day’s trip I tell you. Travel safe folks….

2 thoughts on “The Mshipi Chronicles

  1. With that kind of hoopla around, its a surprise people keep their sanity. If it were me, I’d be sauntering in town with a Bazooka and Glock ready to dispatch any neanderthal to hereafter,before their appointed time. Heavens!

  2. Nate, I needed to read this to remind me of the three kinds of people on Earth. The Arabs, The Rest of the World and then there are Kenyans. Good Work! =D

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