I first used the train for transport to and from town in 2009 and then, it was more like an adventure. Those were the days when Kenyans used to ride on top of the train or hanging from the windows and doors. On my very first ride from the CBD I stood next to the door (like a pro) in my power suit & heels, carrying a handbag and feeling like a tourist does on their first matatu ride. I wish I had carried a video camera to capture that experience *sigh!* Adding to the drama were traffic policemen stationed at random points along the tracks, ready to whip the pants off guys who were hanging from the moving train.
I revisited it in 2014 out of necessity, having been stranded one too many mornings due to matatu scarcity. My friend Eric found me standing aimlessly at the bus stop (Kenyans call it “ng’ethiaring”) and suggested I try the train. I didn’t think twice and headed straight for the train stop because all I wanted was to get to work on time for a change. He thought I wouldn’t actually do it & wondered if I could survive the train ride. I not only made it but found the experience so refreshing that I wanted to do it again & again. (Take that dude! LOL) So I got the train schedule and what follows is a journal of my experiences with it.
Friday Sept 12: Day one was perfect. Got to the train-stop with minutes to spare and right on time, at exactly 6:15 am, the train came by and I was in town by 6:40 am! When the return trip proved to be just as ideal, I was ready to pledge allegiance to Kenya Railways. (I came to realize later, that this is the same tactic they use in casinos to dupe the unsuspecting first-time gamblers. You know how the first time, everything is perfect; you win a round or two and end up with more cash than you started with. Then once you’re hooked…well, let’s just leave that there.
I discovered that little has changed since ’09 – the groundnut ladies still move from carriage to carriage with huge bags slung over their shoulders saying, “Aaa njugu…aaa njugu…”. One of them had diversified to include sesame snacks (simsim) making her customer call quite funny — “sim-njugu”…”sim-njugu” ha ha! Now there’s even a dude making the sales rounds, only that he is selling onions. Yep, selling onions inside a train, who would’ve thought? It took me a minute to wrap my mind around that.
When the train is about to depart, the ladies change their song to “nani bado?” (who doesn’t have some?) because it’s a train-catchers thing — every passenger needs a little packet of groundnuts to make the experience complete.
It’s a train-catchers thing — every passenger needs a little packet of groundnuts to make the experience complete. 🙂
The next two weeks are fairly uneventful unless you consider me running top speed to the train stop every morning something out-of-the-ordinary. That and the fact that sometimes in the evenings they have only one train back. [One train in the evening means departure will be delayed for an hour till 6:30pm AND it will carry double the number of passengers]. This is definitely not for the fainthearted. The major plus in this whole experience is that I reconnected with a high school friend right there at the train stop.
Friday Sept 26: I just hope the honey moon lasts forever. I enjoy this thing we’ve got going, plus I’ve been really loyal and have only used matatus a couple of times. So the train people need to be loyal too. I am now a regular. The matatu crews see me going the other direction and know I’m headed towards the train-stop. Every time they look my way I bet they are hoping the train won’t show up or that it will just cease plying the route and stop stealing their customers! (I think they need to accept and move on).
Thanks for reading & stay tuned for part 2! It gets better.