I have had the opportunity of using public transport a lot in recent months and it has totally changed my perspective on life. I have been struck by so many different things it is amazing in and of itself. I have a new found respect for people who use this as their primary means of mobility. Wow!
If you work 8-5 and live in my neighbourhood chances are that you wake up at 4.45am and will leave home at 5.50am. Once out, you will either walk to the main road or take a motorbike taxi there or occasionally get the few ‘Matatus’ these are 14, 29 or 38 seater minibuses. My oh my…the cold at this time is unreal. Add dust from some of the dirt roads, the lights from the cars rushing out, the beeps of motorbike horns, the whiz as they pass by…it is amazing. I can only call it energy.
When you get to the main road, you have to cross one single lane road then two, two lane roads to get to the inbound bus stop. Imagine crossing a busy road under the cover of darkness. I wondered if I could be seen. Are my clothes reflective or at least light coloured? Have I properly calculated the speed the oncoming vehicle has? Is it a Land Cruiser Prado or any make of Subaru? I found that you can outrun or properly anticipate the speed of all other cars except these two. So I stand there for about ten minutes before I can safely cross the road. Oh I am the only one who takes so long most people are used to it so they are across in a couple of minutes. Wah… finally I am safely across and my heart is pounding and the adrenaline is flowing. I need a couple of minutes to recover from that yet the journey has only just began.
After a brief wait a ‘matatu’ or two arrive and begin calling for customers. I find it funny that different operators have different prices as well as routes. There are two ways to get to town namely through Uhuru Highway or through Jogoo Road. The latter is a new route that came about when the main roads into town would be too congested. There also other sub routes where the operators don’t reach the CBD but stop at different points along the route. Anyway, back to the ‘matatus’. In my opinion, these vehicles play very loud music. They also have coloured internal lights that are not helpful for reading (well most people aren’t into that) but are for seeing passengers and empty seats. Often the easiest thing to do is put in earphones and listen to something on your phone or catch a nap. Now, owing to the fact that I have already been up for two hours that nap is elusive yet not quite so for some of my fellow passengers. I choose to sing along with the radio station and laugh at the comments of the presenters. The most interesting thing is that most of them tune in to the same station so if you get off one and onto another you don’t lose much on that show if you are interested.
It is at least a 45 minute commute that ends at one end or the other of the Railway Station depending on which commuter sacco vehicle you have travelled in. If the energy on the way in is anything, the energy in this lower end of town is insane. You pass the main Nairobi market and it is bustling with people, trucks and buses as wares are sold. The streets are teeming with people walking to work and there are restaurants open and already doing booming business. What time do these people get up? When do they get all these things going? The thing I found most amazing was that there were several shoe shops already open and doing business at this time of the morning. I was amazed because it I have never seen a shoe shop open at 6.45am!
There is another category of people I had also noticed as I sat in the ‘matatu’. There are many, many people who walk to work. I have honestly known that many walk yet this time it really hit me just how many. There are droves of people from different places and directions walking in the cold and dark morning. I realised that some people walk all the way, others take a vehicle part of the way and walk the rest of the day. Yet in this mix you see people talking to each other and laughing, listening to music or radio or just walking in silence…just like those in the commuter service vehicles. Some are walking free others are heavily laden with their wares often from the market. Alongside them are the handcart pushers. These guys pull handcarts loaded with merchandise from one end of the city to another. The bulk of the ones I see are ferrying food from the market to the residential areas for the vegetable vendors to sell. It is a sight to behold as many of them are sweaty and in a light t-shirt yet it is cold and the rest of us are bundled up and shivering.
This journey isn’t ending in town though; I am heading to the other side of the city so I walk across town to get my next vehicle. As I get further away from the lower end of the city the situation is totally different. There are very few people around, shops are still shut up tight it is clear that the day hasn’t started. The first time I took this route I didn’t realise this because I walked most of the way through the busy lower streets parallel. On the following trip I took a different route and that was when I realised the difference. The two sides of the city are so different in terms of when and how they come alive and when and how they shut down.
As usual this got me thinking…
• Are there things going on around me that I had never seen?
• Are there things in my life I need to sit up and recognise so that I can reach the next level?
• Are there people I need to listen to or at least appreciate more for their labour?
• Are there noises around my life that I either need to tune out or tune in to?
Even as these questions are running through my mind, I have so much I can pick up as lessons. I have to decide clearly what I want to do and make the choices count by doing something about it every day. #MyTakeHome from this experience is:
• I need to develop a sense of consciousness about my life and the things around me. There is no room to
walk around oblivious to the things going on.
• I need to stop and listen to the music of life, savour every situation and appreciate the gift of life
• Always look for the good and the great lessons in life
• Ask every question and ensure you have an answer for each.
Here’s to a great life full of listening, learning and sharing.