If you ever decide to take a Ngong Road bus for Karen town, steer clear of Citi Hoppa Bus 436.
Last 4th of June, I boarded the Route 111 Citi Hoppa bus at the corner of KenCom building in downtown Nairobi at 3 pm. I was elated when the bus quickly filled and began a journey that normally would take an hour max to reach the Karen roundabout some 18 kilometers away. But it was mid-afternoon and so I was prepared for more traffic than usual as the bus meandered its way through clogged downtown and past Uhuru Highway. I sat in my usual favored spot just in front of the exit. The conductor started collecting fare.
“Karen,” I told him when he tapped on my shoulder. “Fifty bob only,” he replied. I waited to be given a ticket in return for my Ksh 50 but he moved on. I rolled my eyes as the woman beside me chuckled. I have always been told, get a ticket. Even signs inside the buses say that.
“Excuse me but where’s my ticket?” I called out to the conductor when he passed me again.
“No more tickets, I have no more tickets.”
“How can you have no more tickets?!” I asked. He just shrugged. The woman beside me also shrugged.
“He didn’t give me a ticket too,” she whispered to me.
“Oh well, this is Africa. Why stew over it.” I thought to myself.
We had already turned left on Ngong Road with the driver shifting gears for the uphill climb when the bus lurched to a standstill, prompting a blare of horns from all around. A couple of hundred meters behind, an ambulance ululated.
“Oh no…” I sighed. This was my first time ever to take the Route 111 bus or any bus for that matter from downtown to Karen. This is probably the same bus my friend took one night a couple of weeks ago. His bus had stalled three times in blinding rain, the last time on a vehicle-choked stretch of Ngong Road in front of Nakumatt Junction. Each time, the conductor and the bus driver had gone down, thumped and clunked under the hood, got the bus going again till the next breakdown a couple of kilometers or so. Finally, the conductor was forced to hand back the fares of very irate and drenched passengers, my friend included.
So I looked for my conductor but he was nowhere to be seen. My fellow passengers started leaving the bus. I stood and walked over to the driver who shrugged when I asked him where his conductor was. Great, a nation of shruggers.
I joined the restless masses outside. The driver, who was by then being browbeaten by a cacophony of car horns, attempted to maneuver his crippled bus onto a side road as a glowering blue-suited traffic policeman huffed up to him. I decided to get back into the bus – I figured the only way I could get my fifty shillings back was to stay put inside since I was not given a ticket.
One by one, the other passengers followed me back. The woman beside me said the bus had broken down because it ran out of petrol! What the?? Sure enough, I saw the conductor sauntering back with a small jerrican. Using a couple of his laminated signboards, he funneled the petrol into the gas tank just outside from where I was seated. Some of the passengers were shaking their heads, a group of sleepy-eyed young men were popping their gums while a clutch of heavy-set bewigged African mamas near me were cackling in amusement.
The bus convulsed as the driver tried to start the engine. A half dozen of the most able-bodied passengers got off and started pushing the bus from behind on that steep steep side road. No luck – the engine just kept coughing. The conductor tried to edge out of the bus, avoiding eye-contact with the other passengers who were by now demanding for their fares to be returned. I grabbed his shirtsleeve as he made his way down.
“Give me back my fifty shillings please.” The conductor motioned for me to wait. I followed him out and said, in a louder voice – “Give me back my money. It’s getting late, I have a long way to go and I am wasting my time here.”
By this time the other passengers were also crowding him, some of them waving five 10-ksh tickets. “I asked you first,” I tried to make myself heard above the other passengers.
After much hemming and hawing, the conductor finally handed me back fifty shillings while the other passengers pressed around me. I managed to wriggle my way out of the seething mass.
Good thing there was a near-empty Kilele Shuttle Bus at the nearby bus stop. “Hamsini, hamsini (fifty shillings)”, the woman conductor shouted to me. We all scrambled in. Two hours after I left downtown Nairobi, I finally arrived at the Karen roundabout. What a waste of a nice sunny afternoon just because 1) driver or dispatcher or operator or whoever at Citi Hoppa forgot to check if the bus had enough petrol. Added to that, the ticket conductor did not have enough tickets for all the passengers. He even “wasted” five 10-ksh tickets for a ksh50 fare.
Get real, Kenya. ;-p