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The Matatu, Nairobi's most notorious crime scene


A matatu along Nairobi's Uhuru Highway at dawn.
While matatu's tend to be cheap, Nairobi residents
have to bear with various risks in return
As I got into a matatu, I couldn't help not having her catch my attention. She was like they are meant to be in Africa, tall, dark and striking beautiful. If you doubt me, you should have seen her smile, which is convincing enough , white and dazzling like the African ivory the East clamours. 

She looked familiar, and this was convinced by the I have seen you somewhere before  look that she gave me. This was soon confirmed as she proceeded to greet me and indulge me in talk. Teachers are so confident. We went to the same campus and she was a friend of a friend of mine, who apparently used to narrate to her stories about me. I didn't get to find out how bad the stories were. 

Our matatu soon left the bus station , and the driver bullied his way into Haile Selassie avenue. Our conversation was traded between rows, as I had instinctly taken a seat behind her, rather than next to her. This is Nairobi, there are other more important factors that determine where you seat in a matatu rather than a girls's beauty. The efforts of our bullying matatu driver soon became fruitless, as his matatu stalled along Haile Selassie street. 

We alighted and walked back to the bus station and boarded another matatu. This time was sat next to each other, at the back, her next to the window. We were soon back on Haile Selassie. 

I wonder whether the last Ethiopian Emperor will be happy or sad that the street is named after him. I was telling her to watch her hand bag, for the street is notorious for criminals who open matatu windows and snatch bags away. 

I told her of the day that i was seated next to my colleague, in the same matatus. The driver warned that we watch our bags, a thief was approaching. I remember turning, and watching the slim t-shirt clad hoodlum try to pry open the window behind us. You could see plain terror in the lady seated next to the window, as she clutched her shopping and hand bag for life. 

I have resorted to commuting with my bag between my feet in an effort
to beat the notorious bag snatchers. 
What happened next can only be narrated in a slow motion film, by Samuel L. Jackson.  The hoodlum shifted focus, hit open the window between us, grabbed my colleague's bag . He hugged the bag like a thing he had rescued, and dashed away along the road. They are always lucky enough not to get hit by other motorists. You will not believe me when I tell you that it is not possible to read this paragraph faster than the whole experience. 

I was rooted in shock, but my colleague appeared calm, just slightly inconvenienced. It could have been me, I could have lost my laptop. He had only lost his wallet, and about Ksh 1,400 in cash, and his only house key, and the bag, which however cost Ksh. 5,000. 

He may have been calm, but I knew it would him the next day. I have been there before (Read about it here http://blog.denniskioko.com/2011/05/no-hurry-in-africa.html). As Peter Ndung├║ taught me in his well presented Biology classes, adrenaline kicks in at such moments, to help you manage the crisis. Adrenaline will leave a cheetah wondering when humans evolved to outrunning them. Shock comes much later, when away from the danger. 

I was shocked. I knew they were after phones, and recently they  had expanded into ladies' handbags. I was unaware that bags were now targets, for they offer the reward of a more expensive laptop.

She clutched her hand bag and shut the window closing the small gap between it. We all knew that it was a futile effort, they always open the window. 

She told me about the notorious Juja Road. She was in a 14 seater matatu. It was in the beginning of the month, just when people get paid. A fellow commuter was seated in front of her. Her bag lay on her lap, her hands above her head,  in that posture that indicates the days worries have come to an end. All that awaits is sweet home, the place that has rivalled the goodies of  both the East and the West. 

Then her handbag was gone. He grabbed it through the window, but for all her fellow commuter cared, it might have been gone with the wind, for she immediately alighted the matatu and collapsed in shock. Her fellow commuters watched from a far, none offering to help. These things happen. 

I told her of the stories I have heard. They now board the matatu with you and alight along the way. Just as they are at the door, they grab your bag and run with it. I grab my bag the whole journey, or place it on the matatu's floor, between my seat. 

She told me more about them. One of them, a well dressed lady had approached her sister as she waited for a matatu at the bus stop. The lady was asking her sister of directions to some place, probably where they would take her when the chloroform in the handkerchief made her unconscious, and rob her. 

We were getting closer home , and so I asked for her phone number. Her phone wasn't going through. She found that weird, and started searching for it in her handbag. 

They had struck again. The man who had insisted seating next to her in the other matatu was more than just another old man. 

Her smile, like that of many others, was gone. 


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