This afternoon I was on the 46 matatu heading towards Kawangware. These city buses (which are the same size as city buses elsewhere) have three seats on the right side and two on the left side of the aisle, so that they can pack in 20% more passengers.
I sat in the middle seat. On my right, beside the window, a market lady was going home with a live chicken. This wasn’t odd to me, at least not yet. It sat inverted on her lap, it’s legs tied together and sticking up in the air. If you aren’t familiar with how one must travel with chickens, tying their legs together and holding them upside down is the best way to keep them docile. I learned this lesson and many others from my many treks in Gambia, Senegal, and Ghana.
[how Africans hold chickens to keep them docile]
Next, another market lady sat on my left. The three of us stared ahead, hoping the matatu would get moving faster than 5 miles an hour at some point. (It never did. This four-mile trip took 90 minutes due to the deadlock traffic.)
A little while later the market lady on my left asked something of the one on my right, the one with the chicken. She reached across me and motioned at the open window, gesturing for the other lady to let more air in, or so I thought.
Confused, the lady looked back at her and they bantered for a bit. Finally, chicken lady understood and nodded at the other, who then reached over me and felt the tail feathers of the chicken. One by one she examined them with a discriminating eye. Finally, she plucked one out.
“Bwakgock!” protested the chicken.
A souvenir? I wondered. The lady examined her feather, then stripped most of it, leaving only the tip of the feather intact. She balled the feather tip up, stuck it in her ear, and wiggled it pleasantly.
Ah! She wanted a cue tip.