When I was a kid, I thought it would be cool to use public transport. My first time on a public bus, I chased it down when it took off without me, my older sister on it, and me…not. Those were the days when KBS buses had front and rear doors, so I caught up fast.
I didn’t come to become a regular user of public service vehicles (herein referred to as “PSVs”) until much later in my life, and I am still not five fingers in searching for the beauty in using public transport: cheaper than maintaining a car, cheaper than taking a cab, overhear conversations about people’s interesting lives…
As humans are wont to do, I have more grievances than attributes when it comes to PSVs.
★The crushing bodies
This overloading is in the case of matatus, particularly those going short distances.
When you’re the one forcefully squeezing yourself in, you will not be comfortable; your back aches, your butt aches, your knee caps ache.
Some matatus have interior stickers that tell passengers to sit “four by four like Orbit [gum]”.
Being a big girl comes in handy sometimes, especially when we’re three voluptuous women in the three-person-seat behind the driver. It would be hard for a conductor to ask three women to accommodate a fourth person, skinny or not, when it’s clearly not feasible.
There are people who smell terrific, and then there are those who don’t.
Whether it’s their B.O. or just horrible perfume, it can be gross.
I especially hate it when someone’s awful perfume/cologne rubs off on me, and I’m not even halfway to my destination.
My jeans have been ripped – not once or twice – because of a loose screw on a seat.
Someone with muddy shoes may accidentally step on you.
The required First Aid kit in the matatu is actually empty and you’ve torn your skin on a loose spike.
A drunk man beside you will be making conversation, and you can’t understand a thing he’s saying.
The seat you’re on is unstable, and whenever there’s a turn, you’re afraid it will break under your weight.
★The (can be) rude staff
To be fair, conductors rear their ugly horns when you become difficult. But to also be fair to the passengers, conductors are prone to changing their minds, especially when they’ve switched shifts between destinations.
Once, half the matatu I was in cleared out when the conductor stated a price that no one had agreed to before we got in. Guy had to suck it up and agree to the payment as previously stated.
★The embarrassing conversations
As much as you hear the fascinating/crazy/shocking lives people are living through their conversations, there are moments where you’re struck by embarrassment on behalf of a fellow traveler.
Phone conversations, in particular.
You hear someone arguing with his baby mama about not putting to proper use the money he sent her, you hear a woman yelling at someone in a language you can’t understand, you see that woman’s daughter slinking in her seat from humiliation…Everyone’s ears are perked up and everyone’s exchanging “yikes!” glances.
People should just save some conversations for home.
★The seat hoggers
Men are honestly the biggest culprits of this.
PSVs are not personal cars, and we should not treat them as our personal kingdoms – you’re sharing space. It’s impolite to spread your legs and knees like you’re in your favourite chair at home, whereas your neighbour is balanced uncomfortably from your seat-hogging.
★That they may not get you to your destination
Buses are legitimate about their last stop. Matatus, however, can be cheeky.
Matatus in my route are fond of exaggerating where they’re headed, and we’ve learnt how to read the signs. No matter what they say, we’ve known how to distinguish between a matatu genuinely going the whole way or a short distance.
★How FAR the bus stop can be!
I believe that there’s an inner Olympic champion in every – most – Kenyans. Pedestrians, especially.
The shit we go through sometimes because of public transport has made us resilient.
Like your matatu dropping you off at Railways and you work on Kenyatta Avenue. Or Jevanjee. That’s a daily workout that no one should hassle you for eating chips every damn day if you wanted.
At my first job, the office was located a kilometre away from the main road. Back then, the motorcycle (boda boda) craze had not really hit Kenya. My colleagues and I were forced to walk a kilometre in each morning from the main road and a kilometre back in the evening.
It wasn’t helpful that the sun roasted the hell out of our faces on those evenings as it set, so we had to wait until about 5 or 6PM.
Also not helpful was the dusty road, where residents gave their motoring skills carte blanche, uncaring that we were breathing in the dust from their epic Safari Rally moves.
I did lose some weight before our offices moved, though…And gained it all back eventually.
★The hawking and preaching
On a hot afternoon, I would really not want to listen to anyone yelling about a promotion on new biscuit-chocolate combos. I just want to sit, listen to my music if I feel like it, without the disturbance of hearing buy-one-get-one-free offers from the front of the bus.
It’s funny that some buses have stickers that forbid hawking and preaching, yet it still goes on.
★Where’s the fresh air?!
There are people who are allergic to opening windows.
A PSV may have a promotional sticker warning us of TB and telling us to open windows so as not to contract TB, but if you land a seatmate who is in the window seat and is reluctant to open the window, you’re forced to recycle air from 60+ people.
It’s nasty, it’s stuffy and it’s unsanitary.
Although sometimes it’s not their fault – the window simply doesn’t budge open.
When PSVs are on strike, things seem to come at a standstill for ¾ of the population.
As much as it’s consolation knowing that millions of you are walking home, you don’t rejoice in the fact that you’re going to walk until your legs fall off.
★Your life is in a stranger’s hands
Hired personal drivers are vetted. Before you even leave the house, you’d be able to tell whether he had a few too many last night.
And because they’re always on their toes to keep their boss happy, they can’t afford to smell like stale booze when driving the boss’s kids to school.
In public transport, you don’t know what kind of fellow your driver is. Is he high? Is he a thug? Has the miraa messed with his head a little too much?
I really liked what the government did over the December holidays: no night travel for PSVs. People bitched and complained about it, but hey, the government may have saved your life from a drunk driver.