Taxi Driver's Covid-19 Confessions

  • A file image of taxi drivers in Nairobi
    A file image of taxi drivers in Nairobi
    File
  • Operating a taxi during the global Covid-19 pandemic has to be listed right up there with the world's toughest jobs.

    Add the Kenyan context to the above, and you get why I think President Uhuru Kenyatta needs to grant me and my colleagues one of those juicy EGH commendations.

    I have been driving Kenyans around for almost two decades now, and it has been nothing short of rollercoaster ride.

    I started out with a Toyota Corolla 100 saloon - remember them? I am still convinced that Japanese engineers moulded this particular vehicle with particles from a different universe.

    It just never broke. No matter how brutally I pushed it to the very edge during my many requested trips to parts of Kenya where donkey-paths passed for roads.

    An aerial photo of Nairobi
    An aerial photo of Nairobi
    Eddy Mwanza

    I used to love such trips as it often meant that my client was what you'd classify as rich - or the seasonal 'summer bunnies' who were simply on a personal quest to boost the country's economy within the shortest amount of time possible, and I was happy to play my part in the noble and patriotic cause.

    Anyway, thanks to my better half, my minji minji if you like, I have been able to add several cars to my fleet.

    Mwende (minji minji), was the one who literally led me by the hand to a Co-operative Bank branch when I started out, and helped me set up an account, which in turn opened me up to a whole new world of opportunities.

    Back then, the most highly advanced technology was arguably a wooden block-sized mobile phone, and the battery-powered brick game.

    Trips to the bank were an all-day affair at most, but my bank's personalised operations meant I'd get my queries sorted in record time, leaving me with some vital hours to make some extra cash on the road.

    Flashforward to 2020. To say things have changed would be an understatement of the decade. Phew, and we are just getting started.

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    If you had told the 19-year-old me from back then in 2000 when I started off that I would be now getting ride requests on my smartphone through a pea-sized app on a sleek device, I would have heartily laughed you off.

    This is how I found myself accepting a requesting on April 7. I remember it like it was yesterday as it marked one of the most unforgettable, if not confusing days in my 20 or so years in the business.

    It started out like any other Tuesday, with minimal requests due to this animal called the corona.

    Despite adhering to all the government-issued measures to combat the virus, including an extra sanitiser and several masks for any potential clients, my taxi app was as busy as JKIA following the cessation of movement directive.

    So there I was, parked along Kenyatta Avenue with one eye on candy crush and the other on my side-view mirror. Just in case any of our beloved kanjo askaris was looking for someone to talk to.

    Having gone for most of the day without a single client, you understand why the request that flashed across my screen at around lunchtime had me excited.

    To make it even better, the client was just a few metres from where I was. Saving fuel in the business is like Christmas and Easter rolled into one beautiful gift.

    Heaven was smiling my way. As soon as my client got comfortable in my backseat and placed her expensive looking designer bag on the empty seat to her right, I knew this was one of those long trips.

    Me: Hello miss. Hope your day is going well so far. With all that's going on. I stated while pointing her towards my extra bottle of sanitizer (it's the little things that get you 5-star ratings).

    Her: Yeah, it's been tiring but productive. Thanks for asking. She replied while sanitising every inch of her perfectly manicured hands with the precision of a surgeon.

    Me: That is great to hear. We have to find a way to thrive in this new normal. So where are we heading? I asked while saying 1,000 prayers in my head that her answer would be as far away from the City centre as possible.

    Her: Naivasha. 

    Me: Ok..I responded while trying my best not to betray the cartwheels my heart was performing in real-time due to her answer.

    I then asked if I could make a quick call home, just to let my wife know that her man was out to make unga in the great Rift Valley. She said yes.

    I kept my call as short as was humanly possible when it came to Mwende. 

    She needed to run a few errands so I also transferred some funds from my COOP account straight to her phone using the COOP app - it's amazing how far we've come since the aging-at-banking-halls days.

    The trip was pretty uneventful. Some small talk here and there (mostly surrounding the Covid-19 saga). But other than that, she spent most of the time swinging her head to music, with her earphones turned up just enough to jump into any conversation I decided to start.

    Then it happened.

    We had just started winding our way through the scenic rift valley viewpoints road.

    The great Rift Valley view point.
    The Great Rift Valley viewpoint.
    Eddy Mwanza

    President Uhuru interrupted my favourite radio show, and started reading out new Covid-19 measures. However, it was his statement on the cessation of movement that almost stopped me dead in my tracks.

    For a split second, I thought the scenic route was playing tricks on my mind. But my client quickly quashed my thoughts when she asked if the President had just locked us out of Nairobi.

    Then, just to re-affirm that we had both heard the directive, Mwende's name started flashing on my phone’s screen.

    Using my handsfree kit, my beloved went on for at least 9 solid minutes on what this meant.

    It was too late to turn back. It was official. We would be apart for the next 30 days...or so I thought.

    The rest of the trip was as exciting as watching paint dry. We were both lost in our own worlds, trying to figure out what the next 30 days would be like.

    Before I knew it, I was ushering my client out of the car at a private residence located on the leafy suburbs of the lake-side town.

    She paid me double what my fancy app had indicated and thanked me for the trip.

    I was beyond words and tried my best to express my gratitude without tearing up.

    She must have overheard my conversation with Mwende. 

    You see, the 9-solid minutes I mentioned also involved me telling the mother of my beautiful baby girl -Tiffany, that I'd find a way to send some money, as she was due anytime now. 

    This time a boy, or so the doctor's said.

    Lake Naivasha in Rift Valley
    A section of Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley.
    Eddy Mwanza

    As fate would have it, my Naivasha client paid me directly to my account using her own COOP app - what are the odds, huh.

    I parked my car right outside the private residence and spent the next few minutes making some online banking transactions.

    As it was the end of the day, I started out by checking my bank balance online - which is as easy as ABC on the app.

    All my drivers had banked the day's collections and I did the same as well.

    I then paid all my utility bills, including my DStv subscription for the next 2 months - I just had a feeling that things would get worse before getting better.

    Then I transferred some funds directly to my wife's personal COOP account to cover for any emergencies that may arise during the delivery I was set to miss.

    I did the same for all my drivers - ok not exactly the same as their wives weren't expecting. But I still sent some rainy-day funds directly to their personal accounts.

    Lastly, I checked out a few of those furnished houses for hire on an app Tiffany installed on my phone without my knowledge - God bless her.

    After settling on a one-bedroomed house that boasted a scenic view of the flamingo-laced lake, I called up the landlord, and soon after transferred one-months worth of rent with an option to extend. 

    This took about 10 or so minutes and I was off to my new residence for the foreseeable future.

    Better safe than sorry, I told myself. Plus with the pandemic running riot, the rent amount was extremely affordable - The landlord confessed to struggling to rent out his houses ever since CS Kagwe announced that Rona (as Tiffany calls it) was now among us.

    But the events of that particular day is a story for another day.

    It has been 3+ plus months since the cessation of movement order. Yep, I ended up staying at my lake-view apartment for 3 months.

    Luckily, I was still able to run my Nairobi business using the COOP app - which turned out to be a lifesaver for me, quite literally.

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    I used it to access my account statements, pay for car repairs, process bulk payments, pay salaries, and most importantly, ensure Mwende's account was in fine health, as she welcomed our new born.

    The doctor's were wrong. Yep, another girl. We settled on Tamar as her name - or rather Tiffany named her baby sister Tamar. She's just as pretty as her mother.

    Hopefully she'll get my hair or something. 

    For those 3 months, her photos brought me joy beyond description.

    Seeing her physically for the first time on July 8, was.......I still can't find the words.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has really changed how we go about our day to day lives. 

    Latest numbers show a worrying spike, but the reduction of the dusk-to-dawn curfew hours has led to a slight boom in my business.

    I choose to go after the silver linings in each cloud. Stay safe and keep your loved ones safe.

    Mwende just asked me if I'll be working on August 6. You can all guess what my response was.

    Taxis pictured on a street in Nairobi.
    Taxis pictured on a street in Nairobi.
    File