The Art of Waiting in Kenya

Village view from a matatu

As I approach the matatu stage I feel a bout of irritation.  Completely empty.  I am the first passenger to arrive, which undoubtedly means waiting for an indefinite amount of time until it is full and ready to head out.  I quickly text the Kiva borrower I am to visit to tell her I may be late.  Having been in this situation many times before, she messages me back with an understanding, “Don’t worry, you still come!”  I get in, pick the best seat, buy a few snacks from a hawker knocking on my window, sit back, and wait. 
While it is easy to mistake the constant waiting you do in Kenya as a loss of precious hours in a day-- be it in traffic, an empty matatu, or waiting for people running on Kenyan time-- I have come to realize it as my best learning tool.  It’s a chance for me to see the minutiae of everyday life that is sometimes overlooked when we get distracted with our busy schedules, appreciate the hustle of making a living in Kenya, and start to piece together the perceived chaos that surrounds me. 
City view from a matatu

Through these idle times, I build memories of what at first glance does not seem noteworthy, but as the minutes turn to hours and hours to days, these waits become a significant part of my memories in Kenya. 

I remember the woman shelling peas, singing to herself outside her makeshift business stall and the man who constantly waters his fruits with a plastic soda bottle with holes poked in the top – his version of a watering can – to keep the dirt off for hungry passersby.  The young lady sitting next to a heap of women’s heels, dusting them off one by one and setting them nicely on display, only to pack them up at the end of the day and repeat tomorrow.  The two blind men, who every day sit on the sidewalk singing and drumming for tips in perfect harmony with one another.  Then the ever persistent matatu conductors running to approaching passengers, competing with one another to fill their seats or the overwhelming amount of hawkers selling knick knacks and junk food.  Waiting has also been the time for me to brush up on my Kiswahili, listening (maybe eavesdropping) on conversations or chatting with those just interested in where I am going.  Had it not been for waiting, I would have missed a chance to chat with a fellow waitee about her 4 kids and 10 grandchildren (herself being a child of 12) or the man who used to sing and dance for tourists at fancy hotels, later recording his own music. 
And while it is true that much of this time is spent pretending to ignore the incessant ‘ching chong’ references or inquiries about my assumed relationship with Jackie Chan or Jet Li, I have come to cherish many of these moments, as insignificant as they seemingly are.  Waiting is a big part of Kenya and I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.              

About the author

Traci Yoshiyama

Traci was born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii. While Hawaii is rich in beauty and way of life, growing up so far from the rest of the world fueled her desire to travel and learn from people of various cultures. After completing her undergraduate education, Traci moved to the Czech Republic where she taught English for one year. Having an innate interest in development, she later moved to Kenya where she created and managed a community-based preschool at Shalom IDP camp. While there, Traci became interested in economic and sustainable development, which naturally led to an interest in microfinance. In 2012, she began interning for Zidisha, a peer-to-peer microlending organization, and found herself back in Kenya for one more year. Her days were spent visiting entrepreneurs and ultimately learning from them about the intricacies and complexities of global poverty. This experience solidified Traci’s desire to seek a career in international development. She is currently completing her first year as an MPA student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is looking forward with great anticipation to returning to Kenya to contribute to Kiva’s mission.