I saw a picture the other day of the dirty, busy, crammed streets of Nairobi. I must confess, it warmed my heart. Since then, I have been thinking about matatus. I am sure I have mentioned them before in my emails or in my stories. Forgive me as sometimes I just assume that you know what they are. They are a huge industry in Kenya. You can't go anywhere without seeing them.
So what are they? Minibuses. They are the public transport in Kenya. And I LOVE taking them. Why you might ask?
Well, there are no specific bus stops. You pretty much just stand on the sides of the roads and stick out your hand or raise your eyebrows to signal to the conductor to pick you up. You can also be dropped off anywhere you would like.
They are super cheap. The one I used to take to work everyday in Mombasa would cost me about 20cents a ride.
They are more fun than buses here in Canda. They have SO much more character. Because most of them are privately owned, the owner choses the decor. The most pimped-out matatu generally gets the most business. And boy, are they ever pimped out. On the outside they have explicit pictures of various rappers, political icons, and graffiti. On the inside, florescent lights accompanied by more pictures of celebrities only add to the video screen which is playing the latest music videos.
Then there are two people who work in the matatu. One is the driver who drives the vehicule. The second is the conductor who is the one who spots the customers on the sides of the roads, collects the money, and manages the coming ins and outs. When the conductor sees a person who wants to get in, he knocks the roof and the driver stops. He knocks it again to signal to the driver that they are ready to start driving again. Same process happens when one wants to get off the matatu.
I enjoy the sketchiness of them. I know, crazy as it sounds but they are more like a rollarcoaster ride than a public transport method. They often drive much crazier than the other cars, most of them are broken down and rickety, and they tend to cram in as many people as possible even if it is against the law. The most people I have ever been in a matatu with is 24. Yes, 24 human beings crammed into a mini bus. Personal body bubble? It's popped.
However, there is dark side to matatus. Most of them have very sexual content and promote a very gangster lifestyle. Most of the content on the inside has to do with nudity, sex, and course language. I hear that there are large gangs who control many of the matatus. I remember being quite disgusted as I sat in front of the tv screen while the most degrading music video was playing. I diverted my eyes elsewhere.
Of course there are the missionary matatus that preach Jesus. On the outside there are bible verses and biblical pictures, but on the inside, the degrading videos still play. There are some that are filled with cheesy pictures of Jesus and very light and fluffy sayings about Jesus. Quite honestly, those ones embarrass me too.
So, I have a special place in my heart for matatus.
A few months ago I started to dream about running my own matatu business (ministry) one day. I have asked about the best routes to run my matatu and the most attractive colours that I should paint it. I have been told that its about the music that is being played and how loud it is. I have already asked some of my friends to work as the driver or conductor. I myself have thought about driving it. It would be quite the site seeing a white girl driving a matatu. It's a pretty male dominated industry. And I am pretty sure that I would be too timid and slow behind the wheel. I have started to figure out the costs and the income. But more than anything, I want it to be a good influence on the roads in Kenya. I want people to come in my matatu and feel completely comfortable, to be loved and accepted, and to feel safe. I want good conductors and drivers who can reach out to the other conductors and drivers. Many of them are young guys who can't find work or who have little education. Some of them are also much sought after by the university girls and are often found with fake diamonds in their ears and an arm around a pretty lady.
My heart has compassion for this industry as I see the huge impact it's culture has on the people in Kenya.
I want people to experience Christ's amazing grace and extravagant love...in my matatu.
Here is a fun video I found that very accurately describes a matatu experience.