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Tout

Hello readers! I have not been a good blogger. I know I say things like that from time to time, when I realise how long it has been since I blogged. It’s not that I don’t have things to blog about, especially since this is a more-or-less anything goes kind of blog, it’s just that I don’t get round to typing it out while the stories are fresh in my mind.

Anyway, now that I’m here, here is a story I wrote months ago:

Tout

He should have left an hour earlier. He never seemed to learn. He was annoyed with himself. He had dilly-dallied in the house until past noon. Now he was going to be late and he may have to push some of the things he had planned to do to his next visit to town. Oh well. Nothing much to be done about that now.

He sat in the matatu- the small Nissan van that was authorised to seat fifteen, including the driver and the tout who called for passengers and collected fare, in five rows of seats. The Nissan may actually have been a Toyota, but for some reason people called them all Nissans. Peculiar Kenyan habit.

The arrangement of seats was the same in most of the matatus: the driver had two pasengers to his left. Behind him, was usually a partition of some sort. Some matatus had speakers installed there, some just had metal rods. This matatu had some sort of board behind the driver’s row. There may have been speakers within that board, but if so, they were not on. The row immediately behind the driver usually sat three passengers – sometimes four when demand for matatus exceeded supply. The tout’s traditional seat was on the third row right next to the vehicle’s sliding door. This seat was separated from the other two seats on its row by a gap that allowed passengers to pass to and from the last two rows. The fourth row was similar to the third.

He sat on the fourth row, moved his fare from his wallet to the more easily accessible shirt pocket, then settled to continue reading the Ruth Rendell mystery he was currently on.

The matatu set off. There were the usual activities – the tout collecting fare from the passengers, row by row, issuing change where necessary, tapping the vehicle to signal the driver to stop to drop or pick passengers and so on. He was engrossed in the novel and was not paying too much attention to the goings-on around him.

Usually, the conductor asks one of the passengers on the second row to collect fare from those at the front. Actually he does not really ask – he simply taps the passenger’s shoulder then points at the front-row passengers. The selected passenger in turn taps the shoulders of the two and they pass the money backwards to him or her. In this case, The board behind the driver’s row made this ritual impossible. The conductor therefore had to lean out of his window and reach towards the front passenger window to ask for fare.

From his seat on the row behind the conductor, G saw the conductor lift his right leg. This curious sight drew him from the mystery world to the real one he was in. Before he fully took in what was happening, he wondered what the conductor was doing – trying to step on a passenger? Oh, he’s just collecting fare. But why has he lifted his leg so high? He first recoiled as he realised what was happening, even as it unfolded, then lunged forward to try and save the tout.

The tout’s left foot that was on the floor of the vehicle lost balance for some reason (a discarded polythene bag, it later turned out). The left foot slid towards the right, making the tout lose balance. The tout’s body was mostly out of the window and this offset made his upper body now lean downwards. In panic, he tried to better grip the area above the door, but his hand was holding money and was therefore not fully available.

G tried to grip the tout’s leg, but gravity won and the tout fell out of the window and onto the tarmac. Inertia carried him forward, which was both a good and a bad thing. It was good because it saved his arm from being run over by the back wheel of the matatu, but it was bad to have one’s face and body scraping on the tarmac.

The driver stopped the vehicle almost immediately. The shouts and screams from the passengers reduced as they got out of the vehicle and cautiously looked at the tout, who was still lying on the road.

G didn’t look much, not wanting to see grisly scenes that would stick in his mind for long. In fact, he stood there for a few moments, looking at the backs of the small crowd that was standing around the injured man and debating what to do, just so that he would not seem callous if he just walked away immediately. After what he considered a respectable time, he walked back to the nearest bus stop to wait for another matatu.

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[This post is very Nairobi-centric]

1 US$ is about 85 Kenya Shillings (85 bob)

2 km  is about 1.2 miles

The Government of Kenya decided to do something about road accidents in the country. It basically increased the penalties applicable for various traffic offences, and introduced some new regulations – renewal of license every 3(?) years after an eye test, among others.

Matatu (privately-run public transport vehicles) operators went on strike, protesting these changes, and many withdrew their vehicles from the road. There were some reports of violence. The time to leave work and go home arrived. I did not have our car, and I did not want to ask my wife to come pick me.

Nairobi matatu

Nairobi matatu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got out of the company car just after it emerged from Karuna Close and joined Waiyaki Way. I crossed Waiyaki Way, saw the walking crowd and joined them. This was 6:25 p.m. I actually jogged a little bit but settled for a brisk walk instead. I encountered a man selling boiled eggs (and sausages too, I think) and bought one egg. I walked on.

There were some matatus that were calling for passengers to Sodom for 30bob. I did not know where Sodom was and I did not want to ask (yes, I am a man), so I walked on.

I turned into Muthangari Drive, there were quite a number of us walking. I was sweating by this time.

I emerged on James Gichuru Road at 6:50 p.m. That’s about 2.6 km in 25 minutes.
It turned out that many of those walking with me turned right at some point, leaving James Gichuru Road. They were probably going to Kawangware. Soon there were very few people walking near me, but plenty of vehicular traffic.

7:11p.m. Lavington Green Shopping Centre. 5 km covered.
I paused to take a break and send some texts. Then onward Christian soldier!

7:40p.m. The Junction. 7.4 km walked.

I crossed the street and went to the bust stop.
A motorbike guy offered a ride to Karen for 100 bob. No thanks. The usual matatu fare is 30 bob.
A car stopped and someone said 100 bob to Karen. Some guys got in, Then the guy said 50 bob to Karen. I don’t know what cause the sudden price drop, but someone took the remaining seat. I wondered if the guys who had gotten in already would also pay 50 bob.

Then another vehicle came and said 50 bob to Karen, 100 to Rongai. I got in and sat at the front seat. I was pleased.

8:11p.m. Got off the vehicle at Karen roundabout.
I started the 2km walk home.
My right knee started paining somewhat. The road had very few pedestrians and little light, apart from that from passing vehicles. The bushes seemed more prominent in this darkness, than when I drive by during the day, but I was not scared.

Then I felt the first drops of rain! Oh dear. I started jogging, but that did not last long. Neither did the threat of a drizzle or a downpour.

8:33 Home

(Now you can figure out around where I live 🙂 )

http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000071795&story_title=Kenya-Commuters-stranded-in-Nairobi

http://marcusolang.typepad.com/blog/2012/11/surviving-the-great-matatu-strike-of-2012.html

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