21.07.2009 - 21.07.2009
A few days ago, an English couple on their last night in Africa who I have met a couple of times in Nairobi, came home from the city centre with a local friend around 9pm with the story that they had been shot at. They were fine, if slightly rattled, and it just went down as a crazy end to their African stay.
Though I obviously wasn't around then to compare, something which sounds extremely similar happened to me last night and I am now wondering if it is a regular occurrence. I had been talking with some acquaintances in a city coffee shop, and as a few of us were heading in the same direction i decided to get a matatu with them. It is the first time in Nairobi that I have caught a matatu after dark, normally preferring the relative extra theoretical safety of a taxi.
As we sat in the matatu waiting for the last few seats to be filled, suddenly a huge commotion kicked off a few metres away. I didn't understand a word of the shouting, but my companions started to look slightly worried. The matatu driver, whether by coincidence or not, decided to turn the van around in preparation for departure. Exactly what happened next, I am not sure. But a policeman suddenly appeared and banged on the passenger door. Then somebody (i think the conductor) started shouting 'DRIVE – DRIVE'.
The policeman then raised his gun in the air and fired straight up. People on the street suddenly started screaming and running in all directions, and the driver did as he had been ordered, and we took off to screeching tires and smoke. Through the open window, I watched the policeman lower his rifle, point in our direction and fire several times in the vague direction of our tires. As I was sitting on the back seat above one of the rear wheels, i wa not necessarily the happiest at this new development.
The sound of crunching metal told us that at least one shot hit the matatu somewhere, and we swerved badly, but we kept driving at speeds and levels of recklessness that are rare even in Nairobi. The passengers all had their heads down and were simultaneously wondering what the heck was going on, whilst we pretty much all expected to die horribly and shortly in a fire ball of mashed matatu, seeing as we were speeding horrifically down the wrong side of a dual carriageway swerving crazily around onrushing matatu's, and with the expectation of at least one shot out tire: The ride levels were definitely not up to their normal (poor) levels.
A kilometre of so later on, the driver calmed down, we rejoined the correct side of the traffic, and the conductor started collecting our fares. In an odd silence (this is the only matatu i have been on in the city without a booming sound system playing) we then proceeded as normal.
When i got out, I was surprised to see all tires in place, although there was an ugly hole in the rear corner of the van just below where I had been sitting, and a very definite liquid leak trailing along the road. We had been luckier than I had realised at first. Slightly shaken, I walked the last few metres home, still none the wiser as to what the heck had just occurred. Danged it. I had made it to July without breaking my New Year's resolution, which is almost an all-time best.
I really need to finally get out of this damned city, and sharpish.