It is conceivable that the Swahili word ‘tatu’ referred to the one time three shilling standard fare, is now more likely to indicate ‘always room for three more’. The maximum advertised passenger vehicle capacity is always a minimum. Boarding the Matatu is a chaotic endeavour. Conductors hustle passengers, negotiate fares and communicate with the drivers via systematic roof thumps. Being directed into the separated driver’s cab when the last cubic millimetre of rear space is occupied is normal, two white faces were not.
The startled driver’s expression was quickly replaced with a wide grin; the challenge to demonstrate Matatu to Mzungu at its wildest was on. Normal rules of the road evaporated. The chest thumping bass of the mandatory on-board sound system easily out-powered Matatu’s ageing, smoke belching diesel engine. Undertaking and rapid pavement riding were interspersed with frequent vehicle standoffs and mainly good natured yelling, whilst life expectancy rapidly dwindled.
As dusk fell, alighting from the front-cab brought relief whilst extracting the rest of team from the main melee took a while longer. Exhilarating as a one off; an uncomfortable daily commute for the many.