And this is how I die…
I tried to come to Kenya with the most open mind possible. I wanted to experience all parts of this beautiful country, and I didn’t want my sheltered American biases to get in the way. Up to this point I think I’ve done a fairly good job of jumping right in. I came to Africa without a single beauty product. In fact, I didn’t even bring a brush. I’ve kept myself covered at all times as I am in Muslim villages (shoulders to shins in Shimoni, head to shins on the island). I’ve eaten nothing but local food, and I’ve eaten it without utensils or napkins.(Yes, that means we eat with our hands). I’ve been eaten alive by mosquitoes, spent two days delirious with a fever and stomach flu, and I’m starting to come accustomed to the geckos, millipedes, centipedes, ants, and spiders i share space with. I’ve lived without electricity and plumming at times, I’ve used bathrooms I could never before imagine using, and I share a small house with 18 other people. I feel like a temporary Kenyan. All that being said…I’ve reached my threshold.
I’m going to issue a warning before you read any further in this blog. This is going to be the most dramatic, whiney, privelaged, ethnocentric blog I will ever write. But still, it must be said.
We set out today to go for a nice day trip to get money from an ATM and to visit a market. While those would be easy tasks in the states, we are over 2 hours away from a city. There are two main ways to travel here in Kenya. The first is on the back of a motorcycle, which I refuse to do. There are no helmets, the drivers go way too fast on horrible dirt roads, and they often times want to fit three people on one motor bike. The second way is by a van, called a matatu, that takes groups of people from village to village.
The tricky part about Matatus is there is no set schedule (as with anything in Kenya). You could arrive at one ready to travel at 7:00am and wait for three hours until the matatu is full before you leave. There’s no predicting when that will be, it just depends on how many people are traveling in the same direction on any given day.
We lucked out with the Shimoni matatu this morning. We arrived at the corner right as it was leaving. They pulled over and opened the door for us to get in. We ran over and saw that it was quite crowded, but we had been told that they really pack these things full so we weren’t surprised. The matatu had 14 seats in it, and with us squeezing in it was holding 19 people. I instantly started panicking. Before I left the States I made the unfortunate mistake of stumbling across the statistic that the leading cause of death among tourist in Kenya is overcrowded matatus that tip over.
There wasn’t really a seat for me, and my legs were too long to fit in the seats anyway, so I was akwardly hovering in the inside of a window sill. With my butt perched in a window I closed my eyes and tried to relax, when to my horror we started picking up more people. It turns out 19 was just a starting number. For the next few miles we continued to pick people up, until our number totaled 26 people. This included 4 men hanging out the sliding door, and one man riding on the back of the vehicle. I did some quick calculations and realized we had 5 more people on one side of the van than we did on the other. I had no math formula to base my theory on, but I was quite certain that A) we were going to tip over and B) I was going to die. Once we got off the incredibly bumpy road we let off about four people, which meant those hanging out the door could sit down. I breathed a very small sigh of relief until I realized that we were now gaining speed. Once off the bumpy dirt roads the matatus drive very quickly down incredibly windy, narrow roads.
Obviously I survived that matatu trip, and the several others that followed. I squeezed into the smallest spaces imaginable, had people climb over my head, and even held other women’s children on my lap. In total we took about 6 matatus that day, and I never grew any more accustomed to it. I’m claustrophobic and hate things that move fast, so matatus are pretty much my worst nightmare. I don’t care that this is how they travel every day. I don’t care that it’s cheap and convenient. All I want to do is whisk all the babies off those matatus and strap them into carseats inside slow moving vehicles.
The point of this blog is this: 1)none of you are getting presents because I’m not leaving this village again. And 2) if I don’t make it out of Kenya alive one of you better fly down here, rent a car, and pick up my ashes. Because even if I’m DEAD, I don’t ever want to ride in a matatu again.