All Things are Possible from Your Seat on the Matatu

kenya bikes
Boys riding their bike with me while I run

April 24:

Out for a run
This morning I got up and went for a run. On the one hand it was nice because it hasn’t rained in several days, but on the other hand I felt like I was gasping for air. I think it’s a higher altitude here. The dirt roads are very uneven so I had to watch my step. When I got to Makuyu I turned down a road that I had never been down but knew the general direction that it went. Once on it, Erick (our field worker) told me to turn left after the house with the flowers in front. That was vague so I asked him how far it would be. He said, “500 meters. Maybe 800 meters.” Not much help but I figured I could always ask a local if I got lost or just turn around and go back the way I came. About .75 miles down the road I saw a fence with bright orange flowers. I turned there and was jogging down a little footpath. Then, it split. Do I go left or right? Left seemed to be the more direct route to the orphanage (based on my directional intuition) but to the right seemed more used. I went right. It dumped me out on a road that I happened to recognize, I passed Virginia’s house (a sponsored child), and I was on my way back to Pundamilia. When I got near the village, two boys on a bike decided to ride along side me. He asked me if I was on a training run, and I said yes. His response was, “This is good. You know, they say practice makes perfect.” True, but I’m just practicing to survive :) They rode with me through the village and almost the rest of the way back to Watoto Wa Baraka orphanage.

A trip into Thika
Once home, I showered, ate some breakfast, and sorted beans. We ate lunch a little early, a lunch that consisted of maize, beans, and pumpkin, and then I headed to Thika. My family and I had arranged times to meet on Skype. I talked to my parents and then my sister and brother-in-law but the internet café was extremely hot. I was beat and ready to go home, so rather than walking all the way to Tusky’s (the grocery store), I ducked into a smaller market near the park to pick up the essentials: bread and peanut butter. I grabbed some bananas and a mango in the fruit market and went to the matatu stage.

public transport kenya
A typical matatu

Surprisingly, my matatu wasn’t there. I guess a full one had just left so we had to wait for another one to come. It was 100 Ksh (normally only 70 Ksh). They jack the price up on Saturdays. I bought 2 locks off of a walking salesman and climbed aboard. I chose what I consider to be the best matatu seat, however I was directly in the sun and had a 30 minute wait ahead of me. Lots of touts approached in the meantime wanting to sell me peanuts, DVDs, sausages, wallets, and even elastic banding to make clothes. The man selling elastic banding wouldn’t give up until I finally told him, “I don’t make my own clothes!” He smiled and got the hint. A boy from the shop next to my matatu tried to sell me yogurt since I was drinking some. Not a good strategy- I don’t want to buy what I already have. He waited a minute and then came around to the other side of the matatu. I again told him I didn’t need anything. Five minutes passed and I happened to look over at his little shop. He starts pointing things out, and I just shake my head. He peeps his head through the window and says, “Buy one thing. For 5 shillings.” The boy had a coy smile that I couldn’t resist so I caved. “Whatcha got?” Cakes and lollipops. I told him I would take a lollipop. He grabbed one and brought it around to my side. I dumped out my change but only found a 10 shilling piece. Rather than making him go get change, I told him I would take two. He handed another one over and said “Thank you!” loudly. I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but a salesman/tout actually made my day. Maybe I’ll go for a big ticket item from him next time- like bread.

You, too, can purchase from the ‘comfort’ of your matatu
I swear you can get everything you need from your seat on the matatu. People try to sell you all sorts of random stuff, and if they don’t have it, they’ll run and go get it. The funny thing is, I specifically remember during my trip in 2008 saying, ‘Who the hell buys a lock out the matatu window? Are you just like, oh yeah, I think I need a lock.’ And yet I found myself climbing into the matatu and realizing that I had forgotten to buy locks in the market for James and his brother. I saw for the first time today a man trying to sell forks and spoons, and thought the same thing again. But just wait- one day I’ll be buying those out of a matatu window too!

lizard kenya
My pet lizard

The matatu finally filled up, the engine rattled and shook, and we pulled away. It was a typical exit- we paid off the police on our way out of town and circumnavigated a matatu accident on the on-ramp to the main road. I got home, watched a heated volleyball match on the field, ate dinner, and listened to James talk about his day. His teacher got married, and he had been in charge of buying the gift from the students. He was excited when he told me he ate rice, meat, traditional food, and chapatti at the reception. The day is over, and I’m going to sleep since I’m leaving in the morning at 6:20 am for Nairobi. My lizard friend is in his nightly spot, on the wall beside my bed, catching his fill of mosquitoes.

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