The other day while whizzing down a highway in Nairobi in a battered health and safety risk matatu, the wheel fell off. I was seated in the front beside the driver and noticed some confusion amoungst passengers in the back. As I turned around, the matatu had fallen sideways as we skided along the highway on three wheels! I jumped out with the other passengers when we screeched to a halt. My immediate reaction was laughter at the sight of the missing wheel- the entire thing had flown off while we were driving.
Noone was injured. I took a photo of the scene and exchanged laughs with the other passengers.I am getting very laid back about these type of matatu situations since that same week, the door of another matatu had fallen off.I could have been more alarmed but since none of the other passengers appeared concerned, I also moved away from out battered three wheeled matatu and hailed the next one, hoping that this time all vehicle parts would remain intact for the duration of my short journey.
No-one seems to complain about the state of the unroad-worthy vehicles. People complain all the time about the crazy erratic driving skills of the matatu drivers but not about the state of the vehicles. Road accidents are reaching alarming rates yet there is no monitoring of these battered machines or the driving skills of road users.
Imagine the worst Hiace van, ceilings lined with second hand carpet, dodgy doors that don't shut, blaring music at 120 decibles, a tout extracting shillings from 20customers who are squashed in 12 seats (they have no half seat rates despite sharing a seat with up to 3 people). The ceilings are so low that even I, at 5 foot 3bang my head everytime I attempt to 'alight'.
The police continue to extract bribes but noone insists on updating the matatus to a reasonable state of safety. Seat belts alone would be a good idea, let alone operational doors and wheels
Later that same day, I was invited to the polo club in Ngong road to go horse riding with a friend. I must be the only person in Kenya to arrive at a polo club in a matatu.One other member flies to the club by helicopter, a relation of ex- President Moi. I arrive in style in a battered matatu, four wheels this time,dusting the flies from my face and the red Africa soil from my shoes
That is the confusing contradiction of this great place.One minute you are riding down the highway in a three wheeled matatu complaining about Mzungu prices and the next minute you are riding a horse in an elite polo club.Kenya is certainly confusing and unpredictable but I am addicted to the highs and lows. It's certainly never boring and keeps you on your toes!