I was almost stripped naked once by the ‘moral brigade’ that strangely enough seems to only be found at matatu stages. I was twenty years old and knew how to maneuver my way around the big, bad city. You can’t, for example, wear gold jewelry in certain parts of town. Or a wig – Someone will grab it and make off with it (they are strangely talented at differentiating between hair extensions and temporary perched manes, these street urchins). And don’t get me started on mini skirts!
Matatu stages have always been Red Zones where a moral brigade stands to attention, eyes darting furiously, awaiting a violator of their ‘decency’ rules – And not just in Nairobi. Everywhere. One day, I took a ma-three to Thika (having safely boarded along the route). I had a lot on my mind and totally forgot to alight early. I found myself in unchartered territory.
The minute we pulled into the stage, I knew I was in trouble. There were at least 30 matatus parked there and the place was swarming with drivers and makangas. Oh oh. My skirt was black and white, a little cute thing with a slit at the back. There was no way in hell this get up would go unnoticed. The distance from this particular Red Zone to a nearby hotel was around 200 meters. I figured that I could make it. No, I wasn’t going to pull a Usain Bolt and make a mad dash for it – That’s the equivalent of trying to outrun a cheetah. I was going to walk calmly and purposefully before the pack organized itself.
You have to understand mob psychology. Individuals are quite unwilling to go out on a limb. One guy will never come up to you and start stripping you because he considers your clothing indecent. The loss of responsibility of the individual only occurs with universality of behaviour – If many of them think it’s okay to harass a girl, then it must be okay. The bravado increases with the size of the crowd. As long as I could cover the 200 meters before a crowd gathered, then I would be safe.
The longest walk of my life begins. 10 meters. A few looks. 20 meters. A few murmurs. 50 meters. Someone, after consulting his buddy, pips up. I’m getting nervous. 100 meters. The guy who piped up is following me. His friend and two other guys join him. 120 meters. I’m getting really nervous. They are now six, then seven. Their voices grow louder as their numbers swell. They are getting emboldened. Lewd comments start. 70 meters to go, I will not make it. I say a silent prayer.
My heart is pounding. I’m terrified. I keep praying. God please help me! A car stops. It’s an elderly woman, grey hair peeking out from under her headscarf. “Get in,” she says in vernacular, a sense of urgency about her.
I want to hug her. I jump in, my legs shaking. The mob disperses, disappointment in the air. The spell is broken and they are again individuals, senses restored. One of them hands me a bag through the car window that I hadn’t even realized I had dropped. The irony. A minute ago he was ready to publicly humiliate me.
Charles Mackay, a poet, summed it up best when he wrote. “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”
An angel saved me that day, a woman not of my generation. She probably thought my skirt was risqué. But she helped me anyway because right thinking people do not support violence against women. Do you?
Ciku’s beefs by Ciku Muiruri, Zuqka, Daily Nation, Nov 21st, 2014.
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