What a sad thing it is to have a baby without your own car!
Months before you were born, I was in this Nairobi matatu plying the Ngong Road route. Its speakers were blaring so loud I was sure anything living in the mass of gas called Pluto was hearing every word of it.
One of the passengers was a young woman carrying a baby, aged three months or so, and it appeared they were heading to or coming from a hospital.
About four times, the woman told the conductor to head to the matatu cabin to ask the driver to reduce the volume of the music. He would do so, or at least he would pretend to, but the volume never seemed to reduce by any noticeable margin.
Dancehall music was playing full blast, and this helpless woman with a poor, suffering child had to contend with the torture.
The volume was loud enough to irritate anyone who had some use for their ears after the trip. I alighted before the volume had been brought down and I often wonder how the “booming” business went.
“Ukitaka starehe, nunua gari lako.” I saw that message pasted on another matatu plying Nairobi’s Route 58 a few hours before I sat down to write this.
And I was holding you inside that vehicle. Yes, they want us to buy our own vehicles if we want to ensure our children’s eardrums finish trips in one piece.
Thankfully, the music in the matatu that had the notice was at a reasonable volume. So the notice sounded more like a joke than a blunt statement but the jury is out whether it can be music to any passenger’s ears.
There are days when your mum and I fear for your eardrums. You are at your 10th month as I write this and I am sure the development of your ears is still inchoate. That is a cause for alarm because most Kenyan matatus fancy loud music. They believe it is a selling point.
And it is not always the cleanest music that is played. In that Ngong Road matatu, for instance, on the playlist were dancehall songs with raunchy lyrics and raunchier videos that should only be viewed after 2am and only by people aged over 50 years.
Matatu drivers are also not known for patience. Bumps are crossed at full speed. Accelerations starts before passengers have reached their seats. Overloading is the name of the game. Speed limits are disobeyed. And that spells trouble from many corners because a young child with growing organs is not fit to be tossed about. It is simply not the best time in the child’s life to be “brought up to speed” with avoidable injuries.
With the crammed, stuffy space in matatus, there is always the fear that the passenger on the next seat could be suffering from one communicable disease or another. Perhaps they have TB. Or pneumonia. Or some new airborne disease making medics scratch their heads. Because a child’s immunity is weaker than that of any average person, and because of their propensity to lick anything they consider interesting, any parent has to worry. And I often do.
Dear son, I write this with regret deep down that I have let you down by not acquiring a car to ensure your childhood was as free from the threats posed by matatus.
You have wept a couple of times when in matatus for long-distance trips. They seem to irritate you. Though there are times when the rumble of the engine becomes the much-needed lullaby to send you to sleep, there are times when the small space in a matatu has been unsettling for you, making you inconsolable. Poor you.
But then again, I am in the majority of Kenyans. Plus, I believe matatus harden people to face life head-on. If only they could be a little child-friendly.
P/S: When you will be reading this, please help me answer this question: if a mother, a father and their child sit on the front next to the driver, who should sit in the middle?
This series brings you writings by PETER MOGAMBI, a Nairobi residentwho became a father in January 2017. By the time his son is old enough to read and comprehend, which is at least 11 years from today, a lot of water will have passed under the bridge. So, he has decided to preserve happenings in black and white so that when the boy can finally comprehend, he will get to follow his father’s feelings.