Have You Ever Taken A Matatu?

The picture above is in Uganda but it's the same principle! The next picture is from Kenya. Notice the bags on top.

Review Project: Take a look at the per-capita income of the average Kenyan family. How much is it?

Now divide that number by 12. This is the income per month.

As an exercise, try and imaging how you would feed a family of two parents and three children with that income.

You may have to ride a "MATATU" if you go to Kenya (or any of it's neighbors). You will never forget the experience. Why? Well, you can't really understand it if you don't ride it. I mean, we can say that "MATATU" means "taxi" in Swahili but anyone who's been to Kenya and traveled in a matatu knows that that really doesn't sum up the experience of riding in one.


But what is a matatu? A matatu is usually a minibus or some such form of public transportation in Kenya. Away from the cities, the matatu transforms into a pickup truck, with a cover on the bed. For a few shillings a piece, as many people as the driver can convince to squeeze in (or "cram in" if we're going to be honest), with their baggage, and perhaps some livestock, can get a ride to where-ever they're going.

Usually baggage is placed on top along with animals such as perhaps some chickens. A matatu is finally full when you have several people hanging out the back door.

The reason for all of this, of course, is because most Kenyans are quite poor and transportation is expensive, so this is how working people attempt to cut down on cost. Matatu, Matatu.

A timetable does not exist. You leave when the driver decides that the vehicle is full. Hakuna matata - no problem!

Is this the only way that Kenyans travel? NO! Many Kenyans have cars of their own and there is also a bus service. Take a look at one of these buses...

This is a public bus. So why use matatus? Well, as we said before, they are much cheaper. However, there is another reason. If you remember our other class research on Kenya's geography and climate, you will remember that Kenya is HUGE. There are places with miles and miles of open land with poor roads. Regular buses don't go there!
As you go along in your matatu you will pass many different scenes.

Let's take a ride from Kenya's major city to one of its most rural provinces so that we can see how the roads change!

So we start in Nairobi. Did you realize that Kenya had cities like this? Nairobi is the financial and political capital of Kenya. There are many, many companies and organizations who have offices here.

One very important organization that has offices in Nairobi is the United Nations. They have several significant programs to help Africans all over the continent.

After many, many hours of driving we might pass through a smaller, provincial town like Kisumu in Western Kenya. As you can see, the buildings are not as many or as big as in Nairobi.

Unlike say, the USA, which has a lot of investment spread out all over, in a developing country like Kenya, government and businesses can only invest in a few locations at a time. So, the further away from the main cities like Nairobi and Mombassa that you go, the less investment there is.

Of course this means that many people try to go to the cities. But this ends up causing overcrowding and congestion and there aren't enough jobs.

Along roadways like this you may often see half-completed houses. As housing materials are expensive for rural Kenyans, many will start out with roofs and walls then add to the house over the years until it is a finished structure. At least that's the hope that many have. Unfortunately, the level of poverty that occurs in many rural areas means that a house like this may stay in this condition for years and years.

Here is one of those roads we talked about. In the USA, there are still many places where there are roads like this also.

On those roads, Americans use "SUVs" (Sub Utility Vehicles), but these are way too expensive for the average Kenyan so the matatus perform a very important function for anyone needing to travel cheaply to any place. (As you go along this road perhaps you may see a lion!)

And now, we've come to the end of this particular matatu journey. This is a family living in a village in rural Kenya. Some of the houses in this village are quite modern and are built just like the houses you might see in the USA. However, most of the people of this village are quite poor-this is why they might take a matatu to get back home.

Notice that this family has huts that have been constructed using traditional materials as well as a building that uses modern day galvanized steel sheeting for its roof. From the picture, what kind of materials do you think were used to build the huts?