The below story was shared by Ms Doris Muthoni one of the participants in the Flone Initiative’s Women in Transportations. Doris has become a leader in her community, advocating tirelessly for women working in the informal transport system of Nairobi, called matatu. In her own words -using Sheng a combination of Swahili and English- Doris shares some of the challenges that women in the matatu industry of Kenya face today.
When I joined the matatu industry I did not know anyone, mostly I just pretended that I knew the job. I thought that working in a matatu was an easy job of charging, picking and dropping passengers. Thank God on my second day I met Maggie who I told that I was a newbie. She was very kind to me and started mentoring me on the job. My biggest challenge was touting [calling passengers to get into the vehicle], since I was very shy and I have a big gap in my front teeth – so pronouncing “Commercial!” was a problem.
I worked with Maggie in her matatu for three days and then she left me under the care of Esther. Esther later introduced me to Lydia. May God bless these women for supporting me! I would work with any of the three ladies whenever they were on duty. One day, all the three ladies were off duty and I had to sit and wait at the stage [in Nairobi town] for an entire day without any other driver asking me to work with them.
At around 5 pm that day, I requested one of the drivers to give me some money to buy a bottle of water. He gave me the money; with a funny smile on his face. He called me, “Pretty girl!” I felt very shy because no one had called me pretty before. He then informed me that he, in fact, needed a conductor, he had fired the one he had the previous day because he was stealing from him. He told me that he had been observing me and thought that I was humble. I did some quick calculations of the possibility of taking home Kenyan Shilings 3000 [Euro 24] the following day and said yes quickly!
On a normal day, the matatu owner gets Ksh. 8000 [Euro 64), the matatu fuel is Ksh. 3200 [Euro 25], the matatu manager gets Ksh. 300 [Euro 2] and the rest of the days’ collection is shared between the driver and conductors like me. We planned to meet up and start the next morning which is usually 4 am. I was so excited that I did not speak to a soul. I rushed home and went to bed early in preparation of the next day…. Little did I know!
The driver called me the next day at 2 am and informed me that there were some vendors who wanted us to pick them up and take them to Gikomba (biggest market in Nairobi) and back. He said that they would pay Ksh. 500 [Euro 4] to and Ksh. 500 back and by 4:30 am we would be back and ready for work. This was a jackpot! I hurriedly took a shower and left for the bus stop. But when I arrived he did not even have his work uniform; it suddenly dawned on me that I had been tricked!
His excuse was that I took too long to get there so the customers had left. At this point, I asked him for the car keys so that I could nap before 4 am. He asked me to go and nap in his house instead. I said no. He suddenly became rude and abusive and I had to be aggressive as well. He tore my blouse up but I left safely. I stayed at the bus stop till morning and was still hopeful that I could get a job. Unfortunately, I did not get one since no one in that bus stop knew me.
In my experience in transport work, I have met respectable men out there. However, we should never give a chance to the few who wish to take advantage of our vulnerable situations. Drivers are men and you have to be tough with them otherwise they will take advantage of you. They promise you better working conditions and more money but most of the time it’s all nonsense.
Learn more about Flone Initiative and their programmes at: www.floneinitiative.org