Tales From Ocha: A Matatu’s Jorney.

This is how it was those days

This is how it was those days

“Stand, stand up so they can see you.”
My grandma is urging me.

No, she is not showing me off to some prospective suitors. She is trying to convince the conductor that I should pay less because am under 18. Of course I am not under 18, haven’t been in a while.

This journey started well. We woke up early. We wore our best (most coloured). We took a breakfast of hot sweet tea. ( I have always found that description of tea quite disturbing.) Then we went to the stage to wait for a matatu.

In our ocha, there are no traffic rules. Perhaps because there is virtually no roads, let alone traffic. We stood by the stage for hours, with my grandma rejecting matatu after another ( the owner is associated with witchcraft, the mother-in-law of the owner of the yellow one is an evil woman, that one was involved in an accident, that one is too red…etc). when we finally found one that she liked, I was glad.

Now she is refusing to pay fare. I remember when we were young, height was used to determine if you pay fare or not. If you don’t reach the roof of the matatu at full height, then you are too young to pay. For the height-impaired like me, it took many years of free rides before I grew tall enough to start paying.
That was when anyone you are travelling with used to tell you:

“Stand.. stand up! Let them see you.”

So you stand to your full height, find you are a few inches short of the roof and you are let go.

Even though am still short, there are definitely other signs of growth that will not fool anyone into believing am a scrawny thirteen year old who can pass for 10. My grandma has realized that, so now she is insisting on paying half the fare because am under 18, which am not. She wants me to stand up so everyone can assess for themselves my age. The conductor is losing patience.

Conductors in ocha have to have patience. No one easily parts with their money. They will delay, saying it’s buried somewhere deep in their clothes (and it usually is), and you can’t threaten chuck someone forcefully before their destination, otherwise everyone else might turn against you. But they get back their own when they pack 50 of you into a 14-seat matatu. True story. There is no breathing space.

The cop who will stop you will not only ask for a bribe, but a free ride too. The matatu will stop at every stage possible, whether there is anyone boarding or alighting.

Thus we travelled through the countryside, my face partially buried in someone else’s armpit, no scenery to enjoy because you can’t see the through the humanity to outside, got out covered in dust that somehow found its way onto your brightly coloured clothes and alighting amidst stares of fellow passengers assessing my age because in the end, my grandma paid ¾ of the fare.


7 Responses

  1. haa! my dad used to do the exact same thing. he’d make us wear our primary school uniform to boot. but that was back in like 1994

    The school uniform works too..school children never used to pay fare.

  2. man, your grandma sounds like quite the character! ati the owner is associated with witchcraft…

    You don’t know how witchcraft is believed until you have stayed in my shagz.

  3. Excellent prose and story telling, got me hooked into your scene.

    Thanks..hope you enjoy reading the rest of the posts too.

  4. This is the scene from my village….
    We have the one where people face each other na haijai… It picks all passengers it finds along the route. By the time one arrives, the clothing is creased, dirty or worse torn.
    Lakini hii maneno ya uchawi should be buried in history.
    Hebu stop exploiting your height to defraud coz one day watakushika…

    I don’t use my height anymore..but travel with my grandma and she’ll find a reason why she shouldn’t pay the full fare.

  5. …grannies are always amusing … love them though

    I miss my grandma..I think I shall do the upcountry xmas exit this Decemeber.

  6. Aki all grandma’s must be the same,u gotta love them. Fond memories right there

    Yep.. you have to love them.

  7. you remind me the time i pandad one of those in Kisii but sat at thefron. The first thinga man told me ther is “wewe si mkisii” remember that to this day

    Well, depends….did it offend you? At least you sat in front, had you sat at the back, you might have had a tale of your own to tell.

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