“Matatu.” (mah-TAH-too.) I use the word a lot in my posts, referring to the 12-seater vans routinely filled with 20+ people (and another half-dozen or so sitting on the roof) that are one of the only forms of transportation in my little corner of the world. (Pikipikis, or motorbike taxis, are off-limits. Bodabodas, or pedal-bikes where you can sit on a little foam pad behind the driver, are comparatively rare. Tuktuks, or motorized rickshaw-type things, are expensive to hire. Private cars … where do you think this is, America?) They break down constantly, store tied-up livestock under the seats, flout traffic laws, and are too often kept afloat with baling wire and bribe money in substitution for legitimate annual inspections. But the ways they’re decorated – particularly outside of Nairobi, where the rules are less stringent – are quite elaborate, and sometimes very beautiful. At the very least, they’re always memorable.

The following link is for everyone who’s ever skimmed through an entry and gone, “What the hell is that?” The BBC talks matatus, their driver, and the culture that’s sprung up around them.

“Pimp My Matatu”: One Artist’s Struggle

Kenya’s minibus taxis, known as matatus – the country’s main form of public transport – are renowned for their dangerous driving, blaring out music at deafening volumes and their elaborate, graffiti-style artwork, often based on leading footballers, singers or film stars.

Owners and designers compete to have the loudest sound system and the most eye-catching design, saying this attracts customers but the government is trying to clamp down on them and has banned loud music and ordered matatus to have simple colour schemes.

If you’re wondering, “Doesn’t the loud music hurt your ears? Don’t the elaborate paint jobs and 32-inch plasma screens across the windows completely obstruct the drivers’ views?” The answer to both of these questions is, “Yes. Kabisa.”

(I love how, periodically in this interview, you can hear matatu touts in the background yelling “BEBA HAPA!! BEBA HAPA!!”)

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