last minute

That's a matatu, not a bus,
but I took this pic while sitting on a bus...
A little disclaimer first: I am not writing this in any kind of judgement, it's just an observation.

The phrase "last minute culture" is used frequently in Kenya - by Kenyans - to describe Kenyan culture. For example, (1) when there were new laws passed requiring public transport vehicles to have speed governors installed (again), those who work in the industry asked for more time to comply, suggesting a new deadline, and it was granted. The new deadline came, but it wasn't until the next morning (after another suggested deadline was denied) that owners of the vehicles started trying to get the speed governors installed. They were out of stock for weeks after that because of the rush, and many vehicles were parked for those weeks. (2) There have recently been new requirements for those who are licensed to officiate weddings. Only a fraction of officiants have gotten the new licensing, and the deadline is fast approaching. No one really expects the rest of them to work on the new license until the deadline arrives. (3) We know countless people who have the money to pay their bills, but they don't actually pay the electric bill until they are being disconnected. They don't actually pay their kids' school fees until the kid is sent home from school for failure to pay fees. They don't want to pay until they absolutely must.

They say, "This is last minute culture."

One experience I had on my first trip to Kenya illustrated this even better. Rodgers and I were traveling from Malindi to Mombasa. He had no car, and we hadn't borrowed one (which we did on our next trip to Kenya), so we were at the mercy of public transportation. We got on a bus. It was to leave in 20 minutes, and there were already a few other people seated.

After we took our seats, Rodgers told me to look out the window. There were tons of people standing near the buses.

He said, "They are all going to Mombasa today."

I asked why they weren't getting on a bus yet - there were 2 currently loading passengers.

"They will only get on when the bus is leaving."

So I watched, expecting them to line up and get on board in 20 minutes. They did not.

We did not leave at the scheduled departure time because the bus wasn't full. There were enough people waiting for the bus that we could have left on time if they would have gotten on board.

It's a stalemate: The bus won't leave until it's full. The driver's "last minute" is when the last seat is occupied. The people won't get on until the bus is leaving. Their "last minute" is the bus pulling out of the parking lot. But it won't pull out of the parking lot because they aren't on board. But they won't get on board.

When we should have been leaving for Mombasa, the driver simply rolled forward about 10 feet, then stopped when a wave of people rushed to board. The bus was not yet full, thus we still did not leave. The bus driver plays this game every single day, and wins. He has to bluff and trick the passengers into thinking that he is leaving so that they will think it's the "last minute" and get on board. But some of them are not fooled by the first, second, third, or fourth bluffs. We did the roll-forward-and-stop-for-passengers bit several times, reached the end of the parking lot, backed up and started again.

Eventually the last seat was filled. I think we ended up leaving close to an hour late. I would not be a good bus driver. I have no patience for that kind of game; I would have left with a half-empty bus.


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