Monday, August 22, 2011

Friendly Kenyans

Today I digress again to ask myself a couple of important questions. Are Kenyans really the friendly, welcoming faces that tourists report about after their visits or are we just a masquerading angry mob? Two incidents in one matatu set me questioning the image we project to those who come a-holidaying on our shores.
I had just settled into my sit in the Nissan- which as we all know are not built for comfort- when in came a raving Kenyan to squeeze into the space next to me. He was livid and was going on and on about how the matatu operators had their hands around his jugular and would not let go until he slumped down dead. “Forty bob?…hawa watu wanatuua bwana!” I was just getting accustomed to the eerie smell in the vehicle as I tried to find an angle that would reduce the chances of my shirt getting ripped by the nails and mabati jutting out of the seat. Determined to grab my full attention, the man looked me in the face and repeated his plaint at higher decibels. I mumbled something in agreement with him as I came to terms with the discomfort I would have to endure on the bumpy sections of the road from town to Kangemi. I wasn’t in the mood for playing activist but he had a point- we are unaccustomed to paying anything more than thirty shillings at that time of day. But he wasn’t finished, after lamenting few more times about the astronomical fare, his attentions turned to the ultimate culprit- the Government. “Nakwambia hii serikali itatumaliza!”
He did not bother to go into details about exactly how Kibaki and Co. were pulling the strings of this driver and conductor, causing them to declare obscene fares, but on he pressed until the time the vehicle was put into motion. At that point he lapsed into silence, gasping slightly from the intensity of his monologue. But before he could catch his breath, a tiny incident that would degenerate into a street fight ensued.
In his urgency to leave the terminus, our driver encountered a slow-moving Nissan X-Trail that was almost grinding to a halt in the middle of the road despite the way being clear ahead of it. Incensed, the driver pounded on the horn- but the vehicle did not increase its speed. However, the next lane suddenly cleared, allowing the matatu driver to overtake the object of his ire. But he was hell-bent on giving the driver of the red-plated 4x4 a piece of his mind. So he instead drew level with the sleek Nissan and smashed his fist into its body while hurling a string of insults at its driver and passenger. I hope the mother of the child behind me had her hands firmly pressed against the boy’s ears.
Now, the occupants of the private vehicle both appeared to be young Muslims- decked out as they were in their long robes and sandals. This means they were meant to be participating in the Ramadan fast, which includes abstinence from evil and all fleshly indulgences. But they did not let religion get in the way of their retaliation against the blatant act of defiance committed on their car. They pulled the X-Trail to a halt and hopped out, faces projecting pure malice.
The passenger reached the driver (who had foolishly stopped the matatu) first and began manhandling him through his open window. Having already surrendered to his fury, the matatu driver freed himself from the young man’s grasp and threw open his door to confront his assailants. All the while, unprintable adjectives were flying between the irate trio, complete with their accompanying gestures. Somehow, the scene failed to escalate beyond shirt-tugging and name-calling; perhaps both parties finally realized that they had more to lose than to gain- and that they were blocking two lanes of traffic in a busy part of town. At any rate, they all re-boarded their vehicles and drove off, stopping to exchange a few more expletives at the junction before heading in opposite directions. My fellow passengers seemed united in the opinion that it was yet another show of might by the rich against the poor, despite the matatu driver’s role in the mayhem. “…ni hawa millionaires,” quipped my neighbor in disgust.
It may seem that I am reading too much into just two incidents, but this is a scene I have seen over and over, only in different places, with different faces. Are we really that flammable? Are our economic woes pushing us to the brink of sanity? Are we justified in seeing the failing hands of our leadership behind every single misfortune we suffer? Lastly, are we really still the land of ‘Hakuna matata’?

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