Friday, October 26, 2007

Matatu (sp?)

The second form of transportation here are the Matatu's (sp?) They are the equivalent to mini vans in the USA that are stripped on the inside and then refitted with bench seats. 4 in the back and 1 in the front. The seats are configured to seat 2 and then a flip seat beside to fit one more for a total of 3 people across. As you can already guess they don't ever sit 3 across. 4-5 normally. You Can probably guess what they smell like. If you can imagine the 4 rows of seats in the back than you can imagine the leg room, NONE. For the Ugandans who are smaller people it is usually doable, but for us taller Muzungus it is unbearable. I am 5'7 with longer than average legs and I have to pull my legs up to fit. My son Jesse, is 6'2+ with a 36 inch inseam and it is painful to watch him try to get in. One upside is that they at least have the decency to put the livestock on the roof and strap the fish to the front over the grill. It is funny to see the fish on the front. It looks like the Christmas Wreaths on the front of cars in the USA. I think it keeps the smell out of the inside and also serves as a sort of "smoking" before they get it home to fry. If it does get "smoked" in the journey it is from the diesel exhaust and dirt. Sound appetizing?

The Matatus are owned by the driver or another person who employs a driver to drive it for him. Then, we have the conductor who sits in the back and directs the driver where to stop and who to pick up as well as collecting the money. This form of taxi is what all ex-pats hate as well as the Ugandans who own their own cars.

The driver probably has not been to driving school and the roads here are a "free for all." Might does make right here. Whoever has the biggest car with the loudest horn, drives the fastest and wildest is the one who everyone gives way for. That would usually be the Matatu's. Every driver has his cheese falling off his cracker if you know what I mean.

There are no proper Matatu (bus) stops that I can find here, just people standing by the road waiting for a Matatu to stop and pick them up. There are no shoulders on the roads here so when they stop they hold up traffic. Forget them signaling that they are going to stop they just swerve at the last minute and pull to the side of the road, which is still in the lane. Forget trying to go around them when they do this because you will be staring down the front end of another car coming from the opposite direction driving in your lane. A bit scary. No, a lot scary!

We have just recently in town gotten some curbs and traffic lane lines. That doesn't mean anything to most drivers here especially the Matatu drivers. I don't know what the government was thinking besides trying to impress the queen for CHOGM when they did this because no one even knows what the lines mean. The lanes in traffic are like the seats on the bus. What was meant for 3 cars fits 5-6. Making a left turn from 3 lanes to the right is a normal occurrence, especially by the Matatus.

If you haven't gotten the picture by now, the Matatu drivers are the absolute worst because they are 1. Crazy 2. Crazy and 3. Crazy. They tried to get large double decker buses to replace the Matatus with, but the drivers and owners threatened to strike and not vote for the ruling party and they got their way. I for one would be thrilled if they went on strike, PERMANENTLY.

The other bad thing about these vehicles are that they are never up kept. They smoke so bad that if you get behind one that is smoking you will be in a black fog for miles. Forget getting around them as they will swerve to keep you behind them. They come to a hill and they will slow down to 20 miles an hour at best. On a daily basis I see all of the riders outside of a Matatu that they were riding in pushing it because it ran out of gas or died. Mostly they run out of gas. They will come into a station and put 1 gallon of gas in and then drive till it runs out and stop again. Sometimes they don't make it to the station and then you get the scene of the people pushing it. The other scene on a daily basis is a Matatu in a wreck or sideways in a drainage ditch.

The Matatus start out of town in the morning and drive into the "Taxi Parks" in the city. One is the old park and one is the new park. You can ride all the way into one of these or get dropped along the road just about anywhere in between. Half of the outlying areas are serviced by the new park and the other half by the old park. I prefer to go to the old park as the new park is scary, crowded, smelly and chaotic. I can't adequately describe what it is like there. I will have to go one day and take a photo so you can see for yourselves. When we were doing the water project here in March we had to ride the Matatus to the new park to get into town. I was thankful when we finished.

The upside to Matatu's................?????????????
They are cheap.

Until September of this year we rode on Matatus every day to get around. We are very grateful to a friend here that has loaned us his car until we can buy one of our own.

1 comment:

Brandi said...

this is JUST like Liberia! Scary, right! No rules, just cars and people with lots of both! In Liberia, the cars or vans used have a "van boy" who rides on the back and his job is to push more people in.

(can you tell I'm reading your blog all the way back now!)