"DERE WA HII TAXI NI MANZI"
Peoples' definition of feminism and what is feminist comes solely from mainstream information. Although they are not entirely wrong about feminism, they have successfully managed to paint it as an anti-male campaign. This has led to "savage" misconceptions about what feminism is. The truth is that everyone and anyone who thinks that their sister, daughter, girlfriend or lady-friend should succeed and have a happy life with equal chances and opportunities is an "informal" feminist. Yes, feminists are not just the small group of women who handle esoteric topics on TV shows, or those who speak of feminism, but it applies to all that believe people are inherently equal. Some of the most true feminists are not faceless bloggers or social elites who talk about feminism(not to discredit their being feminists),but the ordinary women out there who are so unaware of this world of feminism and yet, somehow occupy its center;struggling each day against the york of sexism in our society. To guide them they have not the beaming feminist messages of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, or the subtle feminist wisdom of Jane Austen-in fact they don't even know who these people are. Instead all they have is bravery, that stems from 'these' deep recesses in their hearts that seem to be the source of all that is mystical about women. Bravery that has them waging war against the norms and consequently setting them up as the sculptors of the modern female image. I encountered one such "feminist" some days ago...
So last Friday, I was one of the commuters stranded on the streets of Meru without a ride home. Having left school at 6:00 pm, I was fully aware just how low my chances of getting a taxi to get me home would be. See, Friday is a " market day" and people flock Gakoromone market (you may have heard of it) in Meru town with the hope of buying wares cheaply. It is one of the largest-if not the largest-open-air market in Meru, famed for its ridiculously exquisite "mutumba" choices; a fact I can vouch for,vehemently. As such, Fridays here in Meru are characterized by an acute shortage of available space on PSVs, not PSVs. The situation worsens in the evening when the deluge of shoppers have to get back to their homes to make a meal of what they have purchased in the various healthy vegetable stands and to try on what beautiful or otherwise garments they have purchased at come-again prices.
Being as such ill-disposed, I was forced to walk some fifteen minutes out of Meru town proper to the peripheral stretches of the bustling municipality just past LR petrol station where Meru town road vandals and other PSV honchos refuel. Getting there, I was not surprised to see a tufty assortage of men and women crowded at the "Nkubu 30" corner -About this name; Nkubu is one of the other main urban centers, besides Meru, in Meru county and shs.30 is the evening transportation fee that one pays to Nkubu if you board from this particular stage and not from the main stage,where you would be obliged to part with fifty shillings. These disparities are due to matatu turf wars.Back to the crowd, they were obviously more frustrated with the situation than I was. With fatigued limbs we all stood and waited. One of the ladies wearing a curiously misshapen blouse and wielding a faded Tuskeys paper bag with groceries, seemed particularly aggravated; what with the deep furrows running across her dark forehead. May be she was just mentally working out whether she still had enough cash left after purchasing that huge bundle of groceries. I was compelled to think of them as such (financial-furrows), because the same furrows usually appear on my father's face, when I tell him about my school fee balance.
We had been standing for twenty minutes now, when my mental ruminations and Drake's Fake love blasting in my ear phones, were interrupted by an unusual citing;an empty taxi in Meru at 6:35pm on Friday. I would not be overstepping if I referred to this as the "Meru town road UFO". It was a brown, early model Toyota sedan that had clearly been around way before Michuki's transport reforms. Owing to the fact that this vehicle did not have the Yellow line taxi marker, we were in doubt whether this really was a taxi. Empty and without a yellow line, it could have very well been an ambulance! Sensing our doubt or perhaps a deficiency in our commuting "self-esteem", the driver of this not-a-taxi taxi popped the co-drivers side door open. I suppose you expect that at this point we were so relieved to finally have a ride and piled in at this delightful gesture, yes we did, but much later on. Now we were stuck to the ground, a little confused, a bit taken aback, still taking in what was the most conspicuous feature of this taxi--the driver was female. Having opened the door, she was now unassumingly waiting for us to board. A second stare and a curt "mwisho Nkubu" startled us back to our senses and we piled into the road sage of a taxi; the whole lot of us six in total. I sat on the proffered seat and although I had to share it with another, I wanted to see this, A female taxi driver in this androgenic cesspool that is Meru's PSV sector.
With a shaky heave, the vehicle's engine started and we were on our our way, coalescing with the rest of the traffic to become part of the saa moja traffic jam. At this point, I feel it is necessary to tell you a bit about the other passengers as they are an important part of what played out in the following kedo-thirty minutes.We were six in total; two women and four men. Beside me , pressing against me with an unpleasantly protuberant hip bone, was this guy in his mid-twenties actively texting on Whats app. From brief glimpses of what he had been texting some Carol, I was able to make out "DERE WA HII TAXI NI MANZI". I assure you,reading people's text is not an habit but due to the manner we were seated, it was unavoidable. In the back seat, the typical Amerucan, PSV-holic was represented by this gruff, coarse-voiced man who was furiously chewing miraa while instructing the other passengers to assume intolerable contusions if all of them were going to fit in the back seat. This was met with much resistance,with the women passengers in the taxi spear-heading the counter. They made some vague allusion to the fact that the driver of the taxi was "one of their own" and they deserved as much some comfort with a lady at the wheel. To this, I studied the driver's face for an expression--nothing! Not a single hint that she had acknowledged this indirect flattery. In the back seat, the now subdued gruff one, was mumbling under his liquor stenched breath; something about "gukarirwa" which translated into English means to be sat on or in Swahili "kukaliwa". The exchange was ended and silence came rushing in. After a few moments of that oddly comfortable silence that usually follow 'these' matatu conversations, the lady-driver turned the radio on and Diamond's Salome took life reverberating on the feeble speakers.
We were now well past Meru town, racing up and down the road with its hilly terrain. So engrossed in the driver, I had failed to notice the unique set up she was in. What finally drew my attention to this, was the way she shifted the gear as we were getting to a steep incline. It was not the down-in-a-straight-line that is so common with today's automatic transmission but it was the tack-tack-tack motion of manual transmission. She was not only handling this "Jakaya-kiwete" beastie but she was doing it with manual transmission-like a pro! Okay, now, how many ladies do you know who do manual ? Here is this Salome-listening, taxi driving, ass kicking one! My awe was renewed. This really was a unique lady. I couldn't help but wonder whether she was a mother, she seemed like one. Was she a single mother? What made her venture into this male infested world of taxi driving? Does she fear for her safety while transporting male passengers at night? The look on her face as she changed to a low gear and changed off the road to drop off one of the passengers , told me that she had it all in control--this was her daily reality and she was its master.Oh, remember the passenger who alighted at this point? It was the gruff one..yes,he paid up without incident and thanked the lady driver.
The texting one was back at it, and this time I read "anaendesha vizuri". Funny how we take note of 'these' things when ladies are doing it. It's as if we have an inner anxiety when women are involved; a nascent expectation that they will not do it quite well. A few minutes down the road, we reached my stage, The Marsh Farm, I paid up and alighted. I watched as the taxi drove away with the texting one and the two ladies headed for Nkubu. As the tail lights dimmed away, I could not help but think..feminist in a taxi.