Matatu conductors are a highly revered lot in Nairobi. They operate by their own rules. So much that theirs is a subculture that has been studied by scholars.
They are rude, vulgar and their resting facial expression is that of ‘I can punch your face’. We hit the street to get what habits are dreaded most in their daily interaction with conductors. Here are top ten.
1. Mother tongue
Most drivers and their conductors like their first language. What angers many is when they are shouting over passengers’ ears, especially in 14-seater matatus and Embassava buses. Kikuyu and Kisii drivers are the most notorious.
Most affected matatus are those that ply the Wangige, Kinoo, Uthiru, Embakasi and Imara Daima routes. The crew members run at their mouths, literally. They address everyone in their mother tongue.
The older a matatu looks, the likelier that the conductor will be dirty. Most of them scarcely brush their teeth. Some have armpits that smell like a toilet for bats. Indeed, sitting next to a dirty conductor is an ordeal that many dread.
Some shower daily but vitally forget to brush their teeth. A mature man’s odor doesn’t smell fun. Some have shoes that smell like a toilet in hell. Some sag jeans exposing the dirtiest underwear to be found anywhere on the planet.
3. Nichukulie pesa hapo mbele!
If you sit in the seat behind the driver for 14-seaters, it means the conductor will be directly behind you. It will be your duty to help him pick the fare from those seated in front.
You collect the fare, hand it over to the conductor. That touch arouses a nauseating feeling that is an invasion of privacy. It is a petty peeve that interrupts facebooking and tweeting.
4. Spitting machines
After chewing miraa and a few tots of cheap liquor, it is not uncommon to see conductors spitting haphazardly. It is disgusting. No words.
5. Sticking with your balance
Conductors have a good memory to remember those who have not paid. However, they soon forget and fake a nap with your balance. When you remind them, they act surprised and offer some half-hearted apology.
Sometimes they can be violent insisting that they have given everyone their balance and will threaten you and insult you.
6. Hauna pesa ndogo?
If you want to see the face of a pissed-off man, give a conductor a Sh1,000 in the morning. It is their job to have loose change, but nothing rattles and rankles them more than giving them ‘big’ currency notes.
They display their disgust and can make you wait, even drive you past your stage just to punish you, or compel you to accept it with a few coins less, of course.
7. Their unparalleled love for money
Only bettered by MPs. Conductors best exemplify the inhumanity of capitalism. They have an automatic urge to inflate the bus fare as soon as they see more than enough people at the bus stage. When it rains or they imagine it is about, it is their harvesting day.
8. Overly gentle to beautiful and better-dressed women
They openly ogle them (any straight man would). They fondly call them madam or mrembo. What vexes many such women is when their eager-to-please overtures go overboard. Like helping them board the matatu by lifting them by their behind.
9. Kupanda popote, kushuka stage
They can pick passengers anywhere. But you can cry blood and tears, when you want them to kanyagia so that you don’t have to walk so many yards to some office. They will insist that you must alight at the bus stage. It is for your safety though.
10. Insisting on their choice of music or radio station
Nothing reminds us what stupidity can do than when you board a matatu only to find them tuned to their vernacular station. Or that radio station that you loathe.
Or insisting on trashy hip-hop music or reggae or riddims. Enduring a genre that is not your preference is one of the occupational hazards of not owning a car in Nairobi.