Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: JAM (02/09/17)
- TITLE: Always Room for One More
By Trudy Newell
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When I first arrived in Kenya, I had no clue the surprises that awaited me. Some were wonderful, like the glorious sunshine, the fragrant flowers, and breathtaking beauty of my new home. Others were an experience, as I learned how to live as a stranger in my new home.
After a few months, I found myself in a routine of sorts. One morning I sat crushed between two men in the van that held 15 people. One had been drinking, even though it was only ten. The other wore a torn T-shirt that read “I love Kenya”. I grimaced at the man across from me, whose knees dug into mine. Smartly dressed in a three-piece suit, I wondered why he was riding this dirty old VW van that was falling apart. How thankful I was for my short legs that fit so easily into a matatu.
I smiled as I recalled my first ride in a matatu. I had been in Nairobi about two weeks. After waiting for a bus thirty minutes, I watched people climb into the old vans that kept coming by and picking people up. They were crowded, and appeared to carry mostly men.
I didn’t know this was the local transportation system, which supplemented the non-existent bus service.
I asked a lady about to climb in, “Do these vans go into the city? Is it okay if I ride one of these?”
She didn’t answer, gave me a strange look, and turned her head the other way as she hopped in.
“Maybe she doesn’t know English.” I sighed
No bus appeared, so when the next van, commonly called a ‘matatu’ pulled up; decrepit as it appeared, I asked, “Are you going into Nairobi? I need the Post Office.”
The guy in charge nodded.
I boldly climbed in and took a seat, just like I knew what I was doing. The guy in charge started collecting two shillings per head. He smiled at me like he understood I was new at this, “Welcome, mama, the cost for you will be only one shilling.”
As we headed into the big city, more people were picked up. The last lady who got on sat down next to me. The aroma that filled the air was not the fragrance of flowers. She held a live chicken with its feet tied together. The poor thing squawked with feathers flying. I sneezed.
Just before we came to the last round about' (traffic circle), the matatu sputtered to an abrupt stop and refused to budge. The driver and matatu man got out and looked at the engine. After a few minutes, some of the men got out to see if they could help fix the problem.
This created a real traffic jam. Vehicles honked and swerved around the dead matatu. Another fully loaded matatu arrived. The matatu man offered to take people to their destinations in the city. I decided to walk. It was a lovely day, and I arrived at the Post Office in no time.
There I had another surprise waiting for me. The Kenya way of lining up at the counter looked very much like a cobra. There were twenty people at the counter all pushing to get to the window first. I learned not to be so polite.
The first visit I spent almost an hour to get my stamps. After that, I gingerly pushed my way up to the counter like everyone else.
Two hours later I headed for the closest bus/matatu stop with my purchases. A van pulled up. I hesitated as I saw the crowded vehicle. Just then the matatu man popped out and smiled at me. I realized it was the same matatu I rode to town in.
“How in the world did they get the van operating again so quickly!” I wondered.
I was dubious, but the matatu man kept smiling.
“Mama, don’t worry, here’s a seat,” he said, as he juggled people around. “There’s always room for one more.”
The matatu sputtered and jerked, but made it all the way back to the South ‘C’ area where I lived. The matatu man collected two shillings from each passenger as before. When he came to me, he gave me that same big smile, “Two shillings, mama.”
Fiction, based on truth
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