The Bad Part of Town

Believe me when I say: Working hard will take you places. Not necessarily places you want to go, though.

One evening last week, I was leaving one of the offices I am currently working at. I wanted to go straight to a panel discussion hosted by my other employer. So I took a matatu that was headed to University Way, where I usually get off. Or so I thought.

In addition to the usual crazy rush hour traffic, there were some political protests going on in the area. So the matatu driver decided to take another route that would take us straight into town. And by town, I mean a part of Nairobi’s Central Business District that I have been told many times to avoid.

I have to admit, I might have gotten off earlier, had I not been distracted by the matatu’s interior. For some reason, it was covered in pictures of The Game – the rapper, not the movie. Loud Afro beat music was blasting from the speakers, and people looked like they just wanted to be home.

God knows why someone would decorate a matatu like this.

So the matatu stops, and everyone starts to get off. I am stuck though, because the matatu operator has just dropped himself in the seat next to me. You know, one of those conductor guys who stick their upper body out of the driving vehicle when approaching a bus stage, knocking against the outside of the window with a coin and shouting: “Beba! Beba!” (Loosely translated: “All aboard!”)

So this guy is blocking my way, and he starts talking to me: “Hey, why don’t you give me your number?” “No, thank you. I have to get off here.” I have had this ‘conversation’ many times before here in Kenya. Usually with guys on the street or at a club, but this time it feels a little more threatening. “Don’t be like that! Don’t you want to be my girlfriend?”

The car is almost empty now, the driver is getting ready to turn it around and start in the other direction. So I raise my voice and shout at the guy: “Let me out, I have to get off!”

Reluctantly, he lets me squeeze out of the seat, mumbling something under his breath. I hop unto the stairs and jump out of the moving vehicle. Clutching my phone, I try to figure out where the hell I am. People keep bumping into me. The so-called ‘sidewalks’ are way too narrow for the mass of people slowly pushing its way forward, homeward-bound.

So I take a deep breath, hold onto my bag (laptop, phone, wallet and all), and start making my way to the office, zigzagging to avoid collision. It helps that, in my unmistakeably German way, I am used to walking in a matter that others would describe as a ‘rapid pace’.

When I arrive at the office half an hour later, I am a sweaty nervous wreck. A friendly colleague greets me with a bright smile. “You’re here!”, she says. “You made it.” I let out a big sigh. I made it indeed.


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