Somewhere between Matutu and Kisii, Kenya
I hugged Martha and Joyce goodbye as they put me on the matatu back to Kisii. We had spent all day together exploring their small village, Matutu. (Matutu, Matatu. Try saying that 10 times fast.) I was a little embarrassed when they insisted that people get out of the front seat so I could sit there. Shortly after, I was secretly grateful.
This was the most over-packed matatu I have been on yet. Not just five people to a three-person seat, but people half standing/ half crouching, squeezing in wherever they could. It looked like a weird game of Twister. So I was glad I was isolated from the mayhem, sitting comfortably in the front row, next to the driver. Like the entire Kisii trip, I was the only mzungu (white person) on the matatu, and people looked at me with curiosity.
A gentleman crouching with his face near mine introduced himself. He was quite the comedian, and he soon had the entire matatu, including me, laughing. It felt great to all be laughing together. It’s these moments that I cherish most when traveling. Personal connections and shared experiences, no matter how brief.
He commented on my beauty, which is a little ironic given that I was having a serious allergic reaction to something and my clothes were dirty and mismatched. He persistently asked me to marry him.
The row of women behind me, who were now calling me by name, were both protective of me and thoroughly egging him on. He asked for a fist bump, so I obliged. He insisted that in his country this meant we were now engaged. The women, giggling, agreed. He gave me a sugarcane as a gift. “For you. I mean for us”, he said. The whole matatu erupted in laughter, and wondered what he’d do next. He invited me to dinner. I deflected. He asked for my number. I deflected. A couple of the women got off the matatu, and we said friendly goodbyes in Swahili.
The ‘gentleman’ started talking about how he’s a poor man. I said I’m unemployed. He said my parents could give us money. I said they don’t even give me money. He patted me on the head and said “This color always comes with money”. I pretended he was talking about my expensive, and now fading, highlights, unwilling to let this offense taint my memory of the matatu ride.