There aren’t a whole lot of ways to get around Kakamega, a town near Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya. You can walk, certainly. If you need to get someplace a bit faster than your feet can take you, though, you’re not going to find a subway or trolley or a bus schedule lying conveniently on a rack in the non-existence transit station. Nope. You’re going to take a bit more rustic, less organized transit, and you’re going to need some advice.
One the right there is your first method of transit, the Bodaboda. It is exactly what it appears to be: a bicycle with an extra seat. None too glamorous, but you make do with what you can here.
Bodaboda drivers, though, are nuts. This is one of the most brilliant and most terrible forms of transportation I have ever experienced. I would like to give some tips for you if you ever have to ride on the back of one of these bodabodas:
1. Do Not Be A Woman.
Being a woman means that you are automatically wearing a skirt (if you’d like to be respected in Western Kenya by other women), and thus, you must ride side saddle. Although this has it’s benefits such as allowing easy escape if the bodaboda begins to flip over, it also makes the entire trip terrifying.
2. Do Not Have Any Luggage.
It is beyond me, but I have seen many a Kenyan businessman reading charts and papers on the back of a bodaboda without a care in the world. For the rest of us mzungus (Kiswahili meaning “white devil” or “person to pester for cash”; equivalent to “echinsu orcha” for you Ace Ventura 2 afficianados ), one must hold on for dear life to the small handle bar under the ass of the driver. A bag or two just gets in the way.
3. Do Not Try To Talk To The Driver.
They don’t care what you have to say. They are busy dragging your lazy ass up a hill for 10 schillings at the end or about 5 US cents. Just stay quiet.
4. Always Pay With Exact Change.
If you think you’re getting change your 100 bob, you’re sorely mistaken.
5. Enjoy The Ride.
So, you have a few tips for using bodabodas when you are in Western Kenya. But what if you have farther to go? 20 kilometers or even 100 kilometers? At that point, you will take a matatu.
Things to remember:
1. 25 People In A Matatu Is An Empty Matatu.
Most of the matatus in the Kakamega area are little more than minivans. However, I have never seen so many people fit into a 12 person van. If you can get a seat, GREAT! If you have to kneel between the seats, I guess that’s not too bad. If you have to cling to the side of the matatu outside the door, it’s getting a little dangerous. If you need to sit on the roof, you’re probably going to die. However, a matatu is never full until you are sure someone will fall off and die during the trip or the whole matatu will flip completely over. This is a requirement.
2. Never Get Into An Empty Matatu.
You will wait there all day long. Matatus do not leave until it’s completely full, and even then they’ll wait longer to cram more people inside or on top. Consequently, if you get into an empty matatu, you will definitely have to wait until at least 15 other people decide to go in the same direction as you.
3. Do Not Be A Mzungu.
We’ve already mentioned how us poor white devils must grip our handlebars aboard the bodaboda to avoid death at 10mph. White devil-hood affects your ride aboard the matatu as well. The driver will always try to make you pay more. If you live in a village like, say, Shibuli, but work in the town of Kakamega, 12 kilometers away, you might know that your commute costs 40 bob. You might know this because you make this ride everyday. Because people who have lived in Kenya for years and taken the matatu thousands of time have told you that your commute should cost 40 bob. You are certain of this. And you are wrong.
The matatu driver will ask, “Mzungu, where are you going?” You will duly respond, “Ninaenda Shibuli (I am going to Shibuli)”. He will give you the stink eye and say “50 bob.” And you will fight and scream and someone will get out a machete and all hell breaks loose. But eventually, you will only pay 40 bob because they want your business. Simply, know how much you owe before you get on the matatu.
4. Bring Exact Change.
See Point 3 re: “all hell breaks loose” and “man with machete”.
5. Keep Your Head Down.
None of these vehicles have shocks, and if you are not careful, you will definitely hit your head on the roof. It’s fairly painful, and you will be laughed at. The roads in Western Kenya are very, VERY bad so you will encounter many a pothole, speed bump, or routine police blockade. So watch your skull.
6. Wear Your Seatbelt.
At these police blockades, the police will walk around the car to check that there are only 12 people in the matatu and that they all have their seat belts on. If you do not have your seat belt on, you will be fined. If there are too many people in the car, the driver will be fined. The smart drivers pull over before the blockades and give their extra passengers to bodaboda drivers. Then they go through the blockade and wait for the bodabodas to catch up and take the passengers on again. It’s a simple system.
Yes, people do ride on top, as in the picture above. And those people are stupid, or crazy. These drivers are fast, and wreckless. Everyone has either seen someone fall off and crack their head, or they know someone who’s seen that. Don’t be the person to go flying off onto the gravel. Stay inside.
7. Enjoy The Ride.
Because it’s too far to walk, anyway.
Until next time, kwaheri.