By SILAS NYANCHWANI and SHEILA KIMANI
Driving a taxi in Nairobi is dangerous. Thugs want your money, drunk married women want you to ‘prove you are a man’; prostitutes want to pay you in kind after a bad day at work. It’s not a job for the soft hearted.
Silas Kamau, a taxi driver based at Nairobi West, says he has over the last five years, seen hundreds of drunk couples romping on his backseat as he drove them home.
“The latest was one week ago when a man and his date asked me to drive them to a lodging but started their business in the taxi. By the time I got to the lodging, they had finished. The man asked me to turn back and drive to the bar since they no longer needed the lodging. But I insisted that he pays me the Sh800 he was to pay at the lodge for turning my taxi into a bedroom!” says Kamau.
Sometimes, Kamau saves lives. Last weekend, he stumbled upon Street boys trying to molest a young woman, who had just left Tamasha.
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“I chased the boys away and the woman, who was very drunk, asked me to drop her in Karen. By the time we arrived in Karen, she had puked all over my car and didn’t even know where she stays, so I drove her back to Nairobi West, booked a room and locked her in. I came back in the morning, picked her and dropped her home,” Kamau recalls.
The girl, upon being told what had transpired the night before, was overcome with emotion and, in tears, gave Kamau Sh5,000.
But it is not all rosy: “Last week, I had file a police case since a woman I had ferried to Lang’ata sexually molested me,” says Kamau.
“The woman, a regular client, started touching me in the wrong places on the way home. Her hands were all over my crotch and on arriving at her court, she told me to get into her house for my money. I was hesitant. I knew she was up to no good. I reluctantly followed her and when we got to her house, she grabbed my face and kissed me. My knees gave way and I collapsed on the carpet. I was thinking, what if the man of the house walks in right now?
“What I regret is I lost a client, and also didn’t get paid. I am an old man now. I have done all those things during my youth and my priority right now is to earn a living and take care of my family. Had I been younger...” Kamau adds wistfully, trailing off.
But it is the younger women that shock taxi drivers the most. In a career spanning 13 years moving around the city’s numerous suburbs and outskirts, 55-year-old Nahashon Mwati has encountered horrors and shocks but none is as baffling as the transformation of the Nairobi woman over the years.
“Well, they are mostly young, some even in college, but they can afford a taxi, week in, week out,” says Mr Mwati matter-of-factly.
Mwati now has about seven female clients whom he ferries from anywhere at night to wherever. They regularly go home with different men, or they visit different men in different parts of the city, on different nights. And they are not call girls in the conventional sense of the word.
“All, I know is that they have multiple men, young and old, and they neck in the back-seat as I drive. You become immune but it is impossible to believe what the young women in these colleges do,” says Mwati.
Just about everything has happened in his back seat. He has seen fights. He has seen couples quarrel and trade insults. And he has seen men being left in the cold without money — or thrown out by their wives.
In the city centre, a youthful John Mwelu standing outside Galitos on Moi Avenue, points at women walking down the street and asks, “See how they are dressed?”
“One will come at 7pm and ask that I take them to say, South B where she is received by a man who pays the bill. At around 9pm, she will call and ask me to take her to Kileleshwa — to another man. I have driven the same woman to her house from time to time with six different men,” explains Mwelu.
Across town in Hurlingham, a 40 year-old short, swarthy man who calls himself Tosh, has a different take on slightly older women. His clientele is largely drawn from Nairobi’s gated estates.
Of interest to Tosh are men in their 40s with an unusual amount of libido and adolescent energy.
“There are men, who ordinarily should be slowing down, or cooling off, who seem to be on fire. What they do is what you would expect someone in their 20s to do,” says the cheeky and ever-smiling taxi man.
But how does he make his money now that the taxi business is flooded?
“I ‘rent’ out my car for sexual escapades in car parks, where I preside as a watchman for a small fee or guaranteed business,” says Tosh.
On a Westlands street, which is home to about five famous nightclubs, the smell of opium is so commonplace that one can assume it is legal. Clubs here are notoriously famous for violent and vulgar behaviour from women.
Casual sex in taxis, as Dan Oluoch, who has been a taxi driver in Westlands for a decade attests, is fairly common.
“Here, they drink too much and abuse drugs. In the wee hours of the night, they can use their cars or hire a taxi for a quick romp,” admits Oluoch.
Waweru, another taxi-man, claims the difference between men and women has been blurred.
“I mean, women stagger to a taxi at 4 am and say ‘take me home’. A while ago, only men did such things,” quips Waweru.
But that said, the taxi-men are a drunk woman’s best friend. And they know their secrets.
Sammy is a little odd because his taxi is a pricey Subaru Impreza: “I got this car as a gift from a very close friend and client when I was employed as a taxi driver.
Victoria was in an abusive relationship but was too ashamed to share the details with her friends. She found solace in Sammy, her taxi driver.
“She would always visit her boyfriend’s place looking cheerful but leave in tears every time I dropped her,” Sammy recalls.
Overtime, she confided in him. The two grew so close to the extent that Sammy would hide her in his house when her abusive boyfriend was looking for her.
“I grew to love Victoria but we both knew our boundaries. So when she finally left for England to go get married, she left me a brand ‘new’ Subaru as gift for the help I had given her over the years,” says Sammy.
Friendship aside, taxi drivers say some women try to pay in kind for services rendered.
“It’s annoying when people leave the clubs dead drunk and then order for cabs even when they know too well they cannot afford them. Some drunken young women, especially those in their mid-20s, can casually offer sex services as part of payment for the rides home,” says Kamau from his Madaraka base.
Christopher, a taxi driver along Moi Avenue concurs, saying drunken women have offered him quickies as payment for the ride home on several occasions.
“Whenever you find taxis parked up beside the roadside at night, that may just be a cue that some fishy business is happening in that taxi,” he quips.
Alternatively, some female customers pretend to be too drunk to the extent that the taxi driver has to carry them from the taxi into their houses.
“Young and handsome drivers often fall prey to sugar mummies who pretend they want to be dropped home, yet all they are looking for is a toy boy for the night! Such women are very suggestive from the word go, letting their skirts ride up their thighs, lying back on the seat, touching the drivers…” Murage an aged taxi driver complains.
But everyone agrees that when in a tight spot, a taxi driver is your best friend.
“I once joined a group of friends for a road trip but along our way to Naivasha, I realised that some people had become too aggressive. I felt like I had been drugged. I remember running off to a nearby hotel for help after which I called my cab driver from Nairobi. Imagine he came for me although I had no money,” Saida, a 27-year-old entrepreneur says.