As many of you know, I take public transportation in Nairobi, despite the warnings of many expats and the U.S. Embassy. I prefer the buses, because they are more spacious, and in my mind, safer, but I ride on the matatus (minibuses) too. I’ve been getting pretty confident in my public transport-riding ways, jetting around town by myself, even transferring at the big matatu stations downtown. But then I caught two men trying to rob me on a matatu, which has been a good reminder to be aware and cautious, and to always keep some spare change in my pockets in case my wallet goes missing.
Here’s How It Happened:
I was on my way to the British international school, a short and easy ride from our house. I got on a matutu at the bus stop, and as soon as the matatu was full, we drove off. When the attendant asked each of us to pay our fare, the man sitting behind me pretended to drop his change in my seat. He asked me to pick it up for him. I couldn’t find his change, but he kept insisting that it had fallen on the floor of the bus. I was getting increasingly frustrated because I couldn’t find the missing coin, and I didn’t think it was down there on the floor. But I know that many Kenyans can’t afford to lose even 5 shillings, so I kept looking. Then I looked up, and saw that the man sitting next to me was reaching into my purse and grabbing for my wallet.
Here’s How I Felt:
When I first saw the man’s hand in my purse, I was pissed off. I yelled at him to get out of my purse and told both the men that I knew what they were up to. This is a classic rob-someone-on-a-matatu trick and my friend Jacq had told me about it before. Silly me for forgetting and trying to help someone reclaim their lost change. Jacq says she never lets go of her bag, and tells people they can look for the money once she gets off the matatu. It’s a good strategy for next time.
As soon as I called them out, the two men left me alone. One of them even said, “we weren’t going to hurt you”. I asked them to get away from me (there were empty seats on the matatu), but they didn’t move. We rode on in silence, since I wasn’t at my stop yet, and apparently neither were they. Let me tell you, it’s very strange to sit next to someone who just tried to rob you. No one else on the matatu said anything.
We got to the British school, I got off the matatu and it continued on its merry way.
I was angry at these men for trying to take advantage of me, and for thinking I was a fool. I was also angry at them for taking advantage of my willingness to help them look for their change. I was angry at myself for not recognizing their scam earlier. I was glad that none of my belongings had actually been taken. And I was surprised that no one else on the bus said or did anything.
I talked about the almost robbery with my friend Sam over lunch. He thought that maybe the attitude towards robbery here is that the responsibility falls on the more affluent person to protect their own self and belongings, not on the less affluent person to be moral and trustworthy. It’s interesting to think about, and explains why once I caught the two men they simply left me alone and we rode on in silence. It wasn’t about the wallet, it was about the perceived opportunity.
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t been on a matatu since the almost robbery. I’m not against matatus now, I just happened to get a ride home from the British school with Sam and haven’t need to go anywhere since then. My husband wants me to take taxis when I’m alone, but we’ll see.
What about you? Have you ever been robbed? Would you keep riding public transportation if you were in my position?
Photo by: Konstantinos Dafalias