I had a beautiful ride to Karen the other day.
When you are new in a city as expansive as Nairobi, sometimes you learn a few things the hard way. A friend asked me to visit her in the Karen area. Well, since we hadn't seen each other for long I said I'd be glad to. She asked me if I knew how to get to that side of town and I said Of course I did. But since I wasn't sure I could drive there, I decided I'd catch a Number 24.
That was a mistake.
Turns out Number 24 goes out on a major excursion. When I told one of those dudes who hangs at the door as the bus cruises along where I would get off, he looked at me strangely, then asked, "Why did you take a 24?"
"Won't it take me to Karen?" I asked.
"Yes, but you should have gone through Langata."
So I was in for a longer ride than I planned. And it didn't help that just fifteen minutes into the ride my friend started calling...wondering why it was taking so long. "Is it the rains?" she demanded.
I said, "Nope."
"Then what's the matter?"
The matter was...I was in the wrong bus, but being there made me see something that completely messed up the rest of my evening. As our bus came to a stop at one of those places where they empty folks and fill up, I saw a bevvy of excited school kids ready to jump in and head home. And by then it had started drizzling. I looked into the bus and could tell that there wasn't enough room for all of them. Was I going to have to get out of the bus to let in two more?
Man, imagine my surprise when the bus stopped, let out two passengers, then started off without the kids. Not a single one. Instead of the kids, the dude who hangs at the door allowed in two women and a hefty man! To my further dismay, nobody in the bus seemed to mind this sorry picture.
I rushed to the dude who hangs at the door and asked him to stop the bus. "The kids," I said.
Leave the kids?
I couldn't take this. I told him to let four kids in and I'd pay the adult rate for them. To my sweet surprise, other parents in the bus took a child each and before long our bus was filled with happy children heading home to their parents and to do their homework.
In spite of the touching ending of that drama, I was left with many questions on my mind. How can it be that we would let parents ride home ahead of their children? I understand the right of the matatus to maximize profits, but are those profits worth our telling the young, helpless Kenyans that we don't give a damn about them? Can we treat the kids like they don't matter and still wonder why they turn out so angry and disillusioned in this society?
Someone needs to act, to work out a policy that forces the matatus to take the children home ahead of their parents. Until then, my fellow Kenyans, if you are in a matatu and a child is about to be left behind because he/she won't pay as an adult, step in and pay for that child.
Take the kids home first, dammit!