UP MAGAZINE Vol 7.07 Photography Issue - Page 32

URBAN PRESENCE matatu culture The breaking of grammatical and spelling rules syncs with the breaking of traffic rules: “There is that aspect of rebellion towards traffic police and city council,” explains Wycliff (Swift9) Elegwa, matatu and graphic artist. “You cannot find a matatu with graphics whose driver is obedient. They drive over pavements. If it has taken a wrong turn and you stand up and complain, you will be the only one. If you are old and complain, you look stupid. “If you find someone wearing a suit in a matatu, it will not be a formal suit – it will be Sean Jean jackets. You can’t find him in a van Heusen.” Inevitably, how much and what art and graphics the matatu carry, will depend on which part of the city they drive to. Matatu with the least graphics, with the more polite “Thames,” “Cheerz”, “Mamacita”, are number 48 and 46 that ply the Kileleshwa, Lavington routes, posh neighbourhoods with residents interested in seeing the social structures maintained. At the extreme opposite the matatu that go to Eastleigh, Buruburu, are the loudest, most garishly and flashily painted. Often the music on the Kileleshwa-Lavington matatu are classic R&B; Hop, Hop, Ragga for the Buruburu matatu. One matatu, referred to as Roots, best exemplifies matatu culture. Elegwa mentioned it to me, explaining it does not obey traffic rules, drives at 60Kph through thick traffic and charges sometimes as much as Ksh50 over the normal fee. We walk over to Tom Mboya Street. “Pimpin’ n lovin’ it”, one matatu flashes past. Out there at lunch time, the street is clogged. Private cars can hardly move, not even matatu… …oh but that’s a thought too early: elephantine in dimension yet swinging with the agility of a sports car, an Isuzu truck-converted-into-bus comes cavalier. Like an over-active preteen, it goes over the pavement – almost jumping – and drives against on-coming traffic. I stand stunned. “Laffy Taffy”, I see the wordage emblazoned on the side, and when it has driven past, I see “Street Bangerz” painted at the back. He means what he says - a toughie who is no laughing matter. “Welcome to the good life,” another matatu goes past, offering scant consolation. “Wrong number” another seems to answer the questions as to whether you have come to the right place. www.upnairobi.com 32 August 2016 Interpolation and skullduggery combine to form a rogue-humor which never lets up. Then I am disproved by another matatu that goes past: “Someone said life is a series of decisions. I have made up my mind to be yours for ever darling,” it says. “Sitting here eating my heart out and waiting for some lover”. It gets raunchy: “I need hot stuff baby tonight”/ “With me you have a home”/“Hold me tight”/“Drifter”/“Drive it like you stole it”/“If we can’t do it, it can’t be done”/“Buy it, burn it, dream it”/“Bin it or spin it”/ “Sluggard, how do you make your bread?” We found Roots at the far end of Tom Mboya Street, an Isuzu truck converted into a bus. Jungle green, Elegwa tells me it is painted in Glow-inthe-dark spray – this glints in the sun and once it has absorbed sunlight, will glow at night. We board it and before it’s full, it has set off. We get into it to the sound of Habibi and Aisha. We are constantly vaulting back and forth on our seats. Past Luthuli Avenue, we join Race Course Road by driving on the wrong side of the road. Elegwa warned me they go over pavements. He did not tell me this would fling us out of our seats. We did not reach the roof, but it was enough to bring your lunch out. As we went up, I grazed my calf against the metalwork and nearly bled Inside, Roots is Reggae themed, with Bob Marley all over, pictures of hemp leaves, mostly black American musicians. There is a one-by-one meter plasma TV screen with smaller screens along the wall. The windows are greened out and we can’t see what’s outside. We can’t hear what we are saying because they are playing Echo Dida’s track Reason ya ku Smile on mega-woofer speakers that rattle the seats. Buruburu comes and in the dust and treeless expanse, you see how this matatu fits in. We drive back and I realise we went and returned in under 20 minutes on a route that would normally be a one-hour round-trip. I notice passengers ignore other matatu, aiming for Roots. “In a contradictory way, the matatu men are promising a better future,” Mungai says, in what he Y\\H8'[[[[\]X'K8']B[]HH[]H]\^H\H\H[\[ۈX\[][[]\H8$HۙY܈[]\KH\H[H\[X\XK'B\\HHXKZH\XH[H8'H[Y]HH[x'K[