…and it’s nobody’s fault. We may desperately want someone to blame. But sometimes, stuff happens simply because stuff happens. The only thing is … there’s always an effect. Call it karma or *insert relevant physics law here* but the fact remains – every action has a reaction that’s generally equal and opposite.

Take for instance my Saturday night matatu trip. I’m sure everyone has had a similar situation. You ask the makanga for change and he claims he doesn’t owe you any. Or he asks you to pay your fare twice, claiming you didn’t give him any money at all. His argument goes something like this. “Ati how much did you give me? 200? Look at the money in my hand. Do you see a 200/= note here? Do you think I’m stupid?”

At this point, the passenger will take moral offense at being branded a thief, while the makanga will become increasingly aggressive, listing statistics of how often passengers play this ‘trick’. He will throw around terms like, “Mi niko radar. Umenizoea sana. Kwani unanionaje? Tafuta mjinga mwingine, sio mimi.” On certain routes, the passenger may even be violently ejected from the vehicle. It happened to my house-help, but that’s a story for another blog post.

Bumper sticker

Because I’ve been in this situation more than once, I always take the passenger’s side. But I also wonder what makes the makanga so vehement. Is it pride and low self esteem, a preconceived notion that the passengers look down on him/her which results in aggressive behaviour? Or is it the same ruthless attitude that makes them hike fares on a whim, because they feel entitled to the money you worked so hard to earn? Is it a hardness of heart that comes from constant (often deserved) abuse at the hands of said passengers? I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a makanga say, ‘Tumezoea matusi yenu,” though I’ve wondered if they ask themselves – genuinely ask themselves – what they did to deserve it.

One time, when the ‘change’ argument arose, I was sitting next to the makanga. I saw him give a passenger excess change, and saw the passenger pause for a puzzled second, then smile as he pocketted the money. Ten minutes later, another passenger asked for her change, and the makanga launched into abuse, claiming he had already given it to her. I quietly explained his mistake to him, and the whole issue was resolved with laughter and jokes all round.

Saturday night – not so much. I was sitting next to the makanga again, but this time, I had my baby with me, and was more focused on her than anything else. She had earphones on, and her head was in my laps, so when a passenger asked for change and the makanga started abusing her, my baby raised her head and asked why everyone was shouting. I increased the volume on the iPod and told her not to worry about it. Meanwhile the makanga abused the female passenger so much that she started crying and got off the matatu. I felt sick inside but didn’t defend her. I told myself I hadn’t seen what had happened and had no grounds to protest. No one else in the matatu spoke up.

Still, no good deed goes unpunished, and karma got me later that night. On our way home, we stopped at a local chips joint to grab some take-away dinner. Fries, sausages, pilau, beef stew, and apple juice – a completely balanced diet of carbs, proteins, vitamins, condiments, and junk. The place was pretty hectic, and I had a nagging feeling the attendant hadn’t packed all of our food. I asked twice but she insisted, so we left. We stopped twice more to pick pain killers and tomato sauce from the kiosk. Then we got home and unpacked. The sausages were missing. In related news…

Versatility of the f-word

I was already in a dangerous mood and didn’t want to argue, so when I went back to the chips shop and the attendant swore she’d packed my all my food, I just took out some money and bought two more sausages. I grumbled the entire time, but she kept insisting, and since I willingly gave her more money, she probably decided I was trying to con her, just like the lady in the matatu. Never mind that my little girl was with me, and that I’d never set such an example for her.

A part of me worries that I did set an example inadvertently, that my daughter now thinks it’s okay for people to walk all over you, take your money and not give you what you paid for. I could have kicked up a fuss and gotten a refund or more sausages. I could have boycotted the shop in protest, but they make the best fries in the hood. I figured she probably did pack them, only she put them in someone else’s bag, so me insisting would only have cost her money. Or maybe I’m just a bigger coward than I give myself credit for.

A few weeks ago, I needed a new battery for my watch. I had some spares in the house that I got for 50 bob, but I lost them. I tried to find the watch-maker I bought them from, but he moved, so I went to a different shop. They charged me 200 bob for a 50 bob battery, made me wait for half an hour, then replaced my battery with the same one they took out. At least I think that’s what they did, because they went round the whole shop, sent a man to a different shop, and gave me a battery that was dead as soon as I got home. I thought about going back to demand a refund, but I have no proof, and they probably don’t remember me. Then again, I walked past the other day, and I could swear they gave me the side-eye.

It’s not that I have the cash to spare. The 200 bob I wasted at the watch shop will be burning my pocket for a while. And the 140 I lost at the chips shop? Well, the attendant didn’t see me trudging back home and literally counting coins for bus fare because my salary is late again. Still, it’s not her fault the shop was full and she was confused. It’s not the watch-shop’s fault that they’d run out of my size of batteries. It’s not the female passenger’s fault that the makanga was … a makanga.

If a matatu crew gives you excess money, it’s not your job to fix their maths. They con passengers every day, right? It’s simply your lucky day. And it’s not your fault if you get home and find extra groceries in your bag, or sausages in your chips. Why would you take them back? What are you – stupid? Still, there are always consequences, and luckily for you, you don’t get to see what your ‘good fortune’ will cost somebody else. Point is, sometimes, shit happens simply because shit happens. Circle of life. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger yadda yadda. And manure makes things grow, right? So simpletonic, idealistic folk like myself should simply learn not to take it personally.

♫ Pure Shores ♫ All Saints ♫

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