Taxi cab confessions in Nairobi

"You must live up to your name."

Masha Mwangi: "You must live up to your name."

The following what I get for singing along with old church hymns randomly in a cab.

I would like to introduce you to Masha Mwangi, a 29-year-old born-again Christian cabbie, new-found friend and available driver, should anyone be in Nairobi.

Masha caught me singing along with a South African Christian artist’s rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”

“It’s a good song, I think,” he said.

“It reminds me of church when I was a kid,” I said.

“You go to church?”

“Not so much anymore. Sometimes. When the spirit moves, as they say.”

“When the spirit… I don’t understand.”

“My father was a minister in America. I went to church every Sunday as a child.”

“Oh wow. So you are a Christian.”

“Sort of. I believe in God. In an interesting way. But I like the nostalgia of church as a child. I like the hymns and the stained glass. It’s what I was raised with. My father was a minister.”

“He was a minister? Oh wow. He was a pastor, a reverend of a church?”


This is approximates the start of our conversation. I was headed out for an evening, to meet a friend of a friend for a drink, and therefore brought no notebook or recorder. I’m going on memory here.

Masha introduced himself as an born-again Christian. He had strong opinions on the youth of today (we both qualify, he said, as young people).

“We young people want so much. We have been blown away with the world. It’s not good,” he said.

He explained that he was once into “strip night clubs and girls and drink and smoking.”

One day — he didn’t really have an explanation as to why — he committed himself to God while lying on the couch of his small apartment.

“So you should go to church every week. Is your father still ministering in the United States?” Masha said.

“No, he died several years ago. A traffic accident. 2002.”

“Oh but why don’t you go to church? He would want you to go. You should go every Sunday. Don’t you want to worship the Lord? Don’t give up, don’t relent.”

“Oh I haven’t, I just don’t go to church every Sunday. I don’t really go regularly at all. Just when the spirit moves.”

“But your father would want for you to be in church. You should be following in his footsteps. You should finish what he started.”

“No, I’m not cut out for the church.”

“Yes, you should. You should be a minister like your father. God has a plan. He has a plan for you. You must listen to God’s calling; he wants you to follow your father’s life. You should complete his dream.”

This exchange went on for a while; he wanted to know if my mother still went to church. I said yes, rather than try to explain what it means to be Quaker.

Masha wanted to know all about my father’s churches and what Methodists were. I tried to say something about John Wesley and ordination rules in the colonies, but gave up. I realized I don’t really know what makes a Methodist, other than it’s probably hidden somewhere in doctrinal books like the Discipline.

He kept telling me that I should go to church. I said it wasn’t my father’s death that stopped my going to church every Sunday. And, for the record, I said, I still go sometimes.

Masha was unflappable. My purpose should be to be a minister, he said. To orate. To lead “God’s sheep.”

I explained that I think I am fulfilling my purpose. And if I believed my father could see this, then I believe he’d be proud.

I’m not sure Masha quite picked up that. Nuance is perhaps lost when you don’t speak each other’s language fluently.

He went on to blame the youth again for forgetting God. And he chided America for losing faith. Americans are too rich, he said; every American is more concerned with money than church.

“What is money? Money is nothing. It is not love. It is not God. God will set you free.”

I said I might actually agree. In a weird way. I said that I thought perhaps many Americans’ lives were too busy or focused or full or consumed to see God, whatever God may be.

That stumped him for a while. Again, not sure the point was made.

We sat in silence before I explained my purpose in Nairobi and that I thought I was doing service to my fellow man through journalism. I said I was trying to save the world by helping people understand each other.

He liked that.

I eventually got out of the taxi, because traffic in downtown Nairobi was unbearable and walking was easier. I laughed a lot as I was leaving at the irony and humor of the last half hour.

He shouted something along the lines of “Don’t forget God.”

A postscript: Masha regularly hangs outside my hostel at a taxi stand looking for fares. I’m a loyal customer and he is a good guy. He quotes me fair prices, eliminating the need to haggle. And he is quick and reliable, easy to raise on the phone. Nairobi can be a crapshoot for safety. Masha takes away a question mark.

(Thanks very much, Masha, if you read this.)

But, as I said, Masha’s faith is ever present. It wasn’t until the third fare that he asked my name. I told him Adam, as in the bible, you know, first man and all?

“Oh, then you must live up to your name.”

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4 Responses to “Taxi cab confessions in Nairobi”

  1. Royal Says:
    October 22nd, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Touching story. But you should have sung him, “Hear me now! Oh you heathens and serpents of sin! All your dastardly doings are past! Da Da Da Da DAT DAT DAT!

  2. Adam Jadhav Says:
    October 25th, 2009 at 6:49 am

    You totally botched my line… It’s “Hear me heathens and wizards and serpents of sin…”

    “For a holy endeavor is now to begin and virtue shall triumph at last!”

    “I am I Don Quixote…”

    Actually feel a bit like Don Quixote these days, tilting at windmills and all. And it feels pretty good.

  3. Royal Says:
    October 25th, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    I always botch the words. That’s a bass solo, so I don’t feel so bad.

  4. Adam Jadhav Says:
    October 26th, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Plus you’re usually busy showing off those dancing moves and sword fighting and whatnot.

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