What is it with Matatus and kids’ shoes? One shoe! Almost always the left side shoe. You will see it hanging somewhere be it from the rear view or the side mirror or near the miniscule fire extinguisher which resembles an insecticide can; so small I doubt it can put off a firefly leave alone an engine fire. You will find a shoe hanging lamentably from the miniature dustbin that is literary collecting dust at some corner or from the edge of the TV screen for vehicles with entertainment system.
Often, these are small fashionable shoes which may even be new. Are they meant to hoodwink the passengers to accept sitting wanne wanne kama orbit -a classic example of perfect Shoehorning? Or are they meant to deceive us to pay any amount that the touts will shout as the vehicle approaches the bus stop? Gari 80 bob! Those guys really irritate. Why do they always have to influence the conductors on fare determination? And then they start moving to and fro hitting the vehicle repeatedly with their palms that are hard than the vehicle’s metal.
The shoe might mean many things and I think being abandoned by nursing mothers as a lost item is not one of them. Probably they are meant to confuse the traffic police so that they don’t demand the license-pouch from the drivers. They always ask for the license pouch. And they are all long sighted going by the way they inspect the license with hands stretched beyond their knees. The inspecting is done inside 20 seconds and the pouch handed back to the driver.
Chances are the shoelet is meant to make commuters forget to ask for their change. You see how the conductors are wont to keep your change until you ask and beg for it repeatedly. Your change is 50 shillings and the guy has several 50 shillings notes wrapped around his ‘middle’ finger but he doesn’t want to hand over your change. You have to remind him and beg. There is a likelihood that the shoe’s intended use is to make you not fish out a kes 1000 note for a 20 bob fare at 5.30am. Some people are so heartless. They fish a thao and hand it out without feeling the slightest of guilt in the wee hours of the morning. I always feel for the conductors asking meekily “huna pesa kidogo?”
The small shoe could be the reason why we enter into a vehicle with a single passenger inside while the touts are saying “Bado wawili”. Bado wawili and you are the third person to board. The other two are baits but you still buy their crap. You enter and you wait for half an hour before another passenger boards the matatu.
Maybe these are the items that make it possible for a conductor you happened to leave behind looking for change from colleagues in the jam manage to go ahead of the matatu only for you to find him waiting in a distant terminus while all the time you had helplessly worried about your change in silence.
Matatu conductors have arguably the most challenging jobs in Kenya and any sort of a charm to keep tribulations at bay would be welcome. It is especially uncompromising for matatus from the outskirts of Nairobi. I am not talking about those estate matatus with school going kids for conductors. Those who have more metal than clothes on their bodies and more metal than enamel in their mouths. I am not referring to the ones who hang on the vehicles’ doors performing all manner of acrobatics and gymnastics that can impress a Russian ballerina dancer. Neither am I referring to the guys who alight from the moving matatu and run ahead amidst traffic like some athletics pace setter only to haul themselves dangerously back into the speeding vehicle. Or those who direct their drivers to dangerously cut in front of other vehicles while overlapping and boxing others into awkward angles. Nope! I am talking about the calm and disciplined fellas from the satellite towns of Kiambu, Ruaka Kikuyu and the like.
These guys are constantly in a state of emergency. To them, Sir Evelyn Baring’s declaration is still very much in place. Almost 60 years after independence, these guys go about their business in a perpetual quandary presented by traffic police.
We have notorious points where the police carry out their morning raids on hapless conductors who try pleading with the officers in vain. Places like Guru Nanak Ngara road, Riverside, and Kariokor just to name a few. From the look of things, it is not very hard to tell that these conductors comply with the regulations as they do not carry excess passengers, they do not pick or drop in undesignated places, they are clad in a maroon trouser and half coat and have their badges and certificates of good conduct on the ready. You will note that the police never ask for any documents or say a word to these conductors other than grabbing them unceremoniously from the vehicle and dragging them to a land cruiser parked in some alley. Their feeble protests are met with more force. They are held by the back of their belts their toes barely touching the ground, their knickers in a twist literally as they are frog marched to a waiting vehicle where they join other colleagues hounded together like sacks of potatoes.
The nature of these raids is most infuriating, and you have to have plenty of callous disregard for other people’s suffering not to feel for these young men. Imagine them waking up at 4.00 or 5’00 am to commence their days work. Their only means to put bread on the table for their families. They manage to make it to Nairobi before 7am something that demonstrates their unabating industriousness. Unbeknownst to them, there is some fraudulent msako going on in one of the places mentioned. A police vehicle is hidden in some alley like Galberobe road off Ngara road. A uniformed traffic police will stand in the middle of the road waving down the vehicle. The driver will stop thinking it is a normal routine check. Three or four un-uniformed officers will spring from god-knows-where and force the conductor to open the door. The poor guy is grabbed by the collar and pulled out of a vehicle after which they are held by the belt and marched to the hidden police car with their feet flailing in the air. Sometimes, they will not have given out change to a number of commuters and this will force the driver to follow them in a bid to get the money.
You end up wasting a few crucial minutes amidst all this inconvenience. The driver will be forced to leave his conductor behind and you will hear him say that the hounded conductors will not be free unless they part with minimum kes 2000. Kes 2000 which is more than what they make on one trip considering that this a 14 seater charging kes 50 one way making it kes 700. How many trips have these guys been set back by the rogue officers?