I’d wanted to take a matatu to Nairobi, like everyone else does, but Stephen insisted I take a Kensilver bus. It’s one of the nicer and safer bus companies in Kenya and essentially the equivalent of a Greyhound back in the states, whereas a matatu more closely resembles a Fung Wah, that is if Fung Wahs packed people past capacity and had a reputation for killing people.
I felt like I was back in France as people pushed past me to get to the ticket window, thrusting their hands ahead of them and clutching 500 shilling notes. The man standing behind the caged window unenthusiastically exchanged their money for handwritten, carbon-copied receipts.
When in doubt, or when trying to get anything accomplished, act like a local. I made my way to the front and held my elbow up beside me, securing my spot in line.
“Name?” the man behind the cage mumbled just loud enough to hear.
“Gwen,” then knowing he’d have no idea how to spell it, “G…w…”
“…e…n” I finished.
“…e…n” he repeated.
I looked down at the ticked he’d handed me with “Ygwen” written across the top. Close enough.
Getting on the bus appeared to be a free-for-all and it was only a matter of seconds before there were more people on the bus than there were seats to accommodate. I politely pushed my way to the back and asked a couple of women in the last row to make some room for me. They scowled and refused, responding to me in Kiswahili. Another woman shoved me aside, wanting to sit in the seat directly ahead of me and to the left, it was occupied by a child. Was she serious? There were four other people in line in front of her. Apparently she was because she swooped in, picked up the kid, and put him on her lap. Strangely, she didn’t appear to know the kid or his mother.
At this point there were no seats left. A man got on the bus and started kicking people off who had bought their tickets more recently. I was getting ready to exit the bus, when he checked my ticket and directed me to a now vacant seat. The rude women from the back apparently had just purchased their tickets because they too were forced off the bus and angrily stepped out. Karma.
The bus shuddered and shook as it made its way up a hill. I peered at the valley that lay below the road’s thin, grassy margin, wondering if the cement blocks that acted as a guardrail would be enough to hold us if we decided to go careening over the edge, and knowing that they wouldn’t.
A few people had gotten off of the bus and I was told to move to the seat directly behind the stairs. It was great having my own row and a widow seat, until one of the ticket collectors came to sit down next to me.
“Can you assist me with your phone number?” he asked after wanting to know my name and if I go to school in Kenya.
“Oh, uh, I’m only here for one more week.”
“It’s ok” he said, pulling out his phone, “zero, seven…” He said, dictating the first two digits of my number and waiting for me to fill in the rest.
“I’m only here for a week. There is no point.”
He dejectedly shoved his phone into his pocket. He didn’t give up though and asked me to “assist” him again the next time I pulled out my phone to respond to a text.
Chogoria, one of the American volunteers told me not to pay more than 500/= for a cab from the bus stop to the Sarit Center where I was meeting up with everyone. He texted me to repeat “Mimi hulipa mia tano” until someone agreed to the price.
“Thanks! What does that mean?” I texted back.
“Either ‘I dream of taking a cab driver to the US someday’ or ‘I am accustomed to paying 500’ I can’t remember” I burst out laughing when I read it and the people sitting around me gave me strange looks. Oops.