Route 44 Matatu Driver Seeks Advice Over A Dilemma At Work

Nairobi Matatus
  • The public service automobile industry supports livelihoods for a huge segment of the local populace. Mechanics, for instance.

    There’s a spattering of established and roadside garages employing hundreds of mechanics, half of whom are rogue fakes that cannot tell a size 14 spanner from a size 12.

    If your vehicle sounds different after a garage visit, this lot most probably pinched your muffler.

    Anyway, I am a Passenger Service Vehicle (PSV) driver. I ply my trade on one of Nairobi’s most notorious routes; Route 44, which serves some arguably serious thuggery hotspots: Githurai and Kahawa. I need some public input to solve a personal small dilemma.

    My problem is an ideological one or life-ist. English is hard — we endured it in class — because we had to.

    Ok, here goes:

    I am employed as a driver in a colourful Nissan van. It’s not a modest van; it’s heavily pimped, with raised suspension, screaming graffiti, an entertainment unit with plasma screens worth hundreds of dollars.

    You get the picture. Hustle is real. We have a daily target to meet, come what may! That means riding over pavements, skipping queues, riding on the wrong side of the road… and the whole shebang.

    My boss has another newer matatu; similar in most aspects to the one I drive. It’s flashy orange, armed with gigantic rims and a spade attached to the rear panel. 

    The driver is a lanky, lean fellow we call Mwangi, or Mwas. He’s a common fellow on the 44 route; a thin mustache, brown front teeth characteristic with most Murang’a natives, and a liking for leather jackets. He’s controversial — named his matatu ‘Che Guevara’.

    Sometimes we switch. The boss doesn’t care much who drives what, as long as the money arithmetic is right.

    Well, our primary route is the Githurai-Odeon Route. We’ve been on it for so long, I fancy the fact that I can drive the entire route blindfolded. 

    We have other crews on the route, too. These are like comrades in war. In retrospect, this route is like a battlefield and everyone needs an ally to survive.

    Hence, we share stuff and news about the route: flash police roadblocks, NTSA hotspots, jams and gridlocks, rioting students, passengers, et al.

    If you’ve seen an oncoming matatu flash headlights twice, he’s warning you about an NTSA ambush up ahead. Slow the f*** down.

    My dilemma starts here.

    One chilly morning, I lend out Mwas my flash drive; an iconic 8GB metallic flash that’s been with me longer than I can remember.

    As always, we are on our route. We drive this route in pairs. I sometimes lead, Mwas follows with Che Guevara. Or, vice versa.

    It’s like an athletics tag team. If it was a WrestleMania tag team, picture John Cena and Randy Orton.

    Between us, we set the pace and keep the other on toes. It’s a tarmac tug of war.

    Well, it’s a little past 5 in the morning, it’s our first run; from town towards Githurai. I’m chasing Mwas down the freeway, towards Allsopps. It seems like a good day.

    Nairobi Matatus

    Other than the cranky, early morning student cargo smelling of cheap booze and illicit sex, there’s nothing out of the ordinary. We have a duty to get these future leaders to their Kasarani bedsitters on time, so they get to class.

    Plus, I need to take that flash disk from Mwas. I like my Gregory Isaac playlist early in the morning. 

    Up ahead, perhaps a quarter of a mile, boom… tragedy dawns.

    My fellow, Mwas, in the flashy orange Che Guevara, crash bangs into the rear of a sand truck.


    The HAW tipper is really high up; so he kinda’ disappears into the rear axle. Gets hooked up on something and is dragged for a fair distance.

    Maybe the driver doesn’t have a clue. Or, maybe he has company in the cabin; this route enjoys an endless array of hookers.

    These tipper trucks rarely have working rear lights. And, besides, never bother to cover their sand loads with tarpaulin as the law dictates. If you dare tailgate them, the sand gets blown into your face…

    Well, the long and short of it is, my guy Mwas is dead. On the spot. The rescue team will need a fair amount of drilling and welding to detach the van and the driver from the wreckage. It’s likely that Mwas didn’t even know what hit him. 

    That’s not the dilemma, though. This is war – this route is war, remember? Each war has its casualties. He would understand.

    My dilemma, damn it, is the flash disk with my favourite Gregory Issac playlist!

    In the precious few minutes before the police, ambulances and thieving bystanders arrive, is it okay to rummage in the debris, blood, and body tissue to retrieve the flash?

    Which would otherwise be lost when the towing guys arrive?