Saturday, November 26, 2011

The day I got arrested

Well not quite. But I was brought to the main police station in Nairobi. Now before you all begin concocting elaborate plans to bust me out of my Eastern African cell let me tell you the story of my commute home from work on Tuesday and how I ended up at Nairobi Police Station.

In Nairobi buses and matatus are only allowed to pick up passengers at designated stops (or stages as they are often called). Fair enough. Seems like a fairly straight-forward piece of legislation. It is. But it is blatantly ignored by bus and matatu conductors every day. Being the economical system that it is a bus will only leave a bus stop when it’s full, or very nearly full. If that means sitting for ages waiting for other passengers to turn up, so be it. Now on Tuesday I got on my bus as usual downtown and we waited for a while for it to fill up. When it became apparent that no more passengers were coming the driver began to get impatient so we drove off. Along the way the conductor shouted and roared and tempted more passengers onto the bus at any moment he could, more often than not when we were just stuck in traffic and not at the aforementioned bus stages. Once, when a traffic police noticed this and wagged his finger at the conductor, the conductor shrugged his shoulders, shouted something in Kiswahili and the bus drove off.

This pattern of picking passengers continued until the bus was almost full when, as two passengers boarded a 2nd policeman spotted them and ran towards our bus shouting at the conductor. Seeing this, the conductor himself jumped off the bus and ran away and the policeman, instead of taking off after him hopped into the front seat of the bus beside the driver and began shouting at him. A 3rd policeman then arrived and got into the main part of the bus, pulled a few passengers off the bus and then began shouting and the driver aswell. The bus driver is still driving the bus at this point and so I thought 'brilliant, the policemen are going to be sensible, they are going to let the bus drive to its final stop and then arrest the bus driver.' Just as this thought flitted through my mind the passengers all started screaming at the policemen in Kiswahili protesting something. What I didn't know. This hadn't formed any part of my Swahili lessons thus far. The shouting from both sides continued so I eventually had to ask the woman beside me 'Sorry, what's going on?' and she replied 'They are arresting the driver for taking on passengers along the road.' Super.

We continued onto a massive roundabout at University Way, still going in the direction of home and I continued to hold onto the hope that this bus would get me home. Alas the bus did a u-turn at the roundabout, under the instructions of the policeman and we drove back to Nairobi police station. At this point the driver and some more passengers were pulled from the bus, rather roughly and for a split second I got really scared that this was going to get ugly. It didn't (at least for me). They were marched into the police station and no more was seen of them. Then all the passengers got off the bus so I just had to follow them. Some of them were laughing at the whole situation, a few looked very unimpressed and said, half to me and half to themselves, (though in English so presumably more to me - the random mzungu on the bus) that it was unfair that they had to get off the bus since they had gotten on at the correct stage. I asked of the jollier women if she was walking back to the main bus stage and she said she was so I asked would she walk me back there aswell. I had a fair idea of where I was going, but it was starting to get a bit dark and i really didn't want to be wandering around downtown Nairobi, by myself, at dusk. She was more than happy to help and she walked back with me and we had a nice wee chat. We got on another Starbus and I arrived home after 7, about an hour after I normally get home but with quite the story to tell my Mam on Skype later (hi Mum!)

That's all from me for now, more updates to follow later this weekend!

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