Thursday, 2 June 2011

CITI HOPPA: Public Transport Nairobi

My car is in the garage, and so to get into town I decided to take the city bus.

“It will be terrible,” people warned. These people have clearly not spent the last seven years taking buses in London.

There are no schedules or maps that I could find, but that old invention, the human mouth, worked pretty well and I discovered that I needed to take the 46 from outside Junction, our nearest mall.

Like a hardened Londoner I settled down to wait, only to boggle at a bus immediately arriving. The driver called out the bus number to me in Swahili. (This speaking to me in Swahili happens a fair bit, and I assume must mean that people take me for a Kenyan. I'm not sure I'm not a bit taken aback that I am apparently so obviously a white African. What is it? The dusty feet? the ramshackle air? the plastic slops?)

We established it was indeed the 46, and I got on board. Friends, it was not very clean. But I did not find any cockroaches, which makes it cleaner than my main London bus, that old enemy the 12. The vents by the backseat of the 12 were a regular preparation for life after the nuclear holocaust.

Also different from the London bus system is the distinct absence of yobby teens playing music loudly on their mobiles. Also, of rain outside the bus windows. And of an electronic voice saying DOORS OPENING. In fact, never mind no electronic voice, there were no doors. I tried to regard this as simply providing for an excellent through breeze.

The conductor takes your fare (30 shillings!) and gives you a ticket. A man gets on and sits next to me with immaculately white shirt and white shoes. He smells so bad it is as if someone has reached down into my throat and punched my gag reflex.

When people want to get out, the conductor raps on the roof with a coin to let the driver know, and we don't stop, only slow down, so people can jump. This often happens in the middle of an intersection. DOORS OPENING, indeed.

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