Tuktuks weren’t always a part of Coastal culture.They came into these lands circa the early 2000s. And like most new things when they show up, some rejoiced at their arrival while some predicted doom for the Coastal people’s health.An automobile that was small enough to penetrate the tight alleys of our inner neighborhoods? Why, people were never going to walk again!But how they improved the social lives of us Coastals! Visiting relatives and the sick, going to pay condolences, weddings, funfairs, fundraisers! Getting around has never been easier.I myself never set foot, literally, in one until perhaps two years after they came into the picture, at my kids’ insistence. They wanted to know what it was like to sit back on a three wheeler with all the being jostled around that our roads would ensure. I, personally, thought there were better uses for my 50shs than a tuktuk ride but hey that’s negotiable as well!
Look and Design
Tuktuks , an Indian import, literally come in many colours, styles and designs. They still remain mostly yellow but that is as far as the comparison goes. You have some with coloured string lights draped around it. These look like moving decorated Christmas trees. Some have very loud music blaring from it. Others have pictures of American celebrities(and sometimes of their children) wrestlers; pictures of barely dressed women that should be rated R. Others have quotes from the Quraan: “this is from the Bounty of my Lord” and others from the Bible. In need of motivation? Plenty of inspirational quotes can be found on the back of tuktuks : “Failure is delay not defeat.” Have haters? “Don’t tell them your plans- show them your results.” Unaware of the latest TV shows or movies? EMPIRE in big bold letters; Maria and the Turkish A Girl Named Feriha.
Bigger than they seem.
There is no end to what can be squashed and squeezed into tuktuks- especially the older types. Coming from an early Kongowea farmers’ market trip? Stash your 20kg+ gunny sack in there.Going for an ice cream with the family? I have seen four adults each with two children on their laps fit in there.Water cartons? A stand fan (guilty! 🙂 The tuktuk will deliver. Half a year’s worth of food shopping? The tuktuk is your man…… errr……. your ride.Heavy machinery? you guessed it, the tuktuk will do it for you! A lot can be said about these species confused little vehicles- which are a cross between a motor scooter and a car- but perhaps the most interesting thing about them is their drivers.
Oh, the drivers.
Since I mostly walk to places or otherwise board a tuktuk I have had more than my share of run ins with all kinds of drivers. Here are a few of my ‘favourites’:
The perfect gentleman:
This one dresses as if he has an important meeting to attend. He gets out of the tuktuk so that he can open the door for you. He will then go ahead and wipe the seat clean before you sit. He calls you madam and apologises whenever you hit a pothole or someone honks loudly. If the situation permits he might even step out of the tuktuk again to open the door for you. That is, if there is no hawk eyed traffic policeman nearby. This man will thank you for choosing his tuktuk and he will wish you a wonderful day.This kind of driver leaves me smiling all day and gives me hope that there are good well mannered people still alive in the world.
The driver of your nightmare:
This one will just stare into space as you explain to him where you want to go. All he will say is ” hio ni mia” (that will be a 100shs)He will drive recklessly, shout at other road users and sneer at you when you try to give him further directions. He will let you know he has been a driver longer than you have been alive. He refuses to turn down the nightclub level music. This one obviously does not belong to the ‘customer is king’ club. He will then drop you, unceremoniously, several metres from where you told him you needed to be dropped. Then, he will shamelessly tell you: “si unaweza tembea?”The only reason you have not poked his eyes out/demanded he lets you get off immediately is because you are a civilised person…he refuses to stop, rudely pointing at an invisible policeman that only he can see.
The civic minded/political expert.
This one will greet you and as soon as you are settled he will swoop in. He will ask you what you think of the new budget that was just rolled out; or the latest political scandal. “Did you vote in the last election and did your candidate win?” (wink, wink) He will tell you why there was a street demonstration at such and such a place and which bigwig is responsible for it. He will tell you who is paying for the new roads -and who should actually be paying. He will remind you as you alight to watch the seven o’clock news for the latest.
This one begins with how mosquitoes are going to kill every one eventually and how his friend puts a mosquito net over his tuktuk at night so that during the day he does not get bitten. He will tell you that after he drops you he is off to a parent /teacher meeting as his wife is away visiting her mother. He will,mournfully, tell you that after the said meeting he himself is going to go to the local clinic and have a malaria test taken. He will tell you he saw a mob pursuing a suspected thief and how sorry he feels for the man if he were to get caught. He will tell you of the strange things that people have left behind on his tuktuk. He will swear to you that he tries to return all of them if he can, otherwise it is God the Almighty Himself who has wanted him to have those treasures.
From the moment he greets you and you tell him your destination this man will soothe you with stories of righteous people. He will quote from the Qur’an or the Bible, he will exhort you to fear God, remind you of upcoming holy days and how the poor and the under-privileged need to be included in our thoughts prayers and donations. He is polite but reserved and he makes sure you reach where you need to safely. This one also thanks you for your business and wishes you a blessed day. You always come away a better person after a driver such as this.
The scared one
This one will refuse you to climb aboard if you have a package he can’t figure out. He will demand – if you insist on taking his tuktuk- that you open it so that he can see for himself that it is not something you can hit him over the head with. He will tell you straight off that if it is a certain part of Mombasa you are going to then you had better step down as there is no way he is risking his life by taking you there. Never mind that your life will be just as in jeopardy but he will not listen. This is the same guy who will suddenly without warning jump out from the moment he spots the boys in blue. Leaving you wondering what he did. Or what law he broke and what to do with the 50shs in your hand that you were going to pay him with.
This one will ask you about every thing. Somehow he believes you to be the resident expert. He will ask what you think the new building site in town is for. He will ask what the Kaaba is and he will be genuinely shocked when you tell him you have not been blessed with a visit yet.He will ask you what the tunnels being dug on the street are for and when you hazard a guess(for fiber optic cables) he will ask you why you think the hibiscus flower is now so beloved. He will ask and ask until your silence will alert him that you would much rather say nothing.
Part of us.
Whether they are rudely waking you up at 4.am with their thunderous noise; or overtaking you, or offending your eyes with their garish design and inappropriate pictures, tuktuks are part of Mombasa’s culture now. I can’t say they will be here another ten years what with the competition from modern app supported transportation systems. But for now they remain our – my – favourite. I don’t know how I ever did without them.