Writer of Matatu Madness leans on his matatu
Gitari wrote the play, Matatu Madness, in five days, i.e. one 13-minute episode a day. He was one of three people asked to script by producer Catherine Fellows. Whereas the other two had been informed before Christmas 2003, Gitari says, “I was told only on January 15,” he says, adding that he wrote three scripts before Fellows settled on one. “Unlike the other two, I got the job because of my being in the industry and being knowledgeable about it,” says the 26-year-old soft-spoken man who hopes to “someday pen a full-length Hollywood movie and to be a world renowned novelist.”
In Matatu Madness, Mumbi, wife of Kwach, a matatu owner, is thrown headlong into the deep end of the chaotic matatu (public service transport) industry after her husband goes into a coma after being involved in a traffic accident. She has to learn swimming fast lest she sinks. This is based on the matatu industry in Kenya before the National Rainbow Coalition government of Emilio Stanley Mwai Kibaki introduced some reforms in February 2004 with a view to reducing road carnage. Such measures included the installation of speed governors and seat belts and control of fares and reigning in matatu crew. “The matatu industry is not as bad as the government tried to portray it. As an insider in the sector, I maintain some objectivity in my play. The government should not force changes and implement them haphazardly,” Gitari said on location in April 2004.
Trained at Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology in building and construction, Gitari said he would purchase 50 percent of the shares in his uncle’s matatu that he drove with the money BBC paid him for his play. Aware that one cannot live from writing alone in Kenya, Gitari does all sorts of odd jobs for survival. But he is no Johnny -come-lately in the field of writing. In fact, he says, “I was known as ‘the love doctor’ for my ability to reconcile men with their girlfriends by writing them poetry between 1996 and 1998.” From then henceforth, he kept on writing even when his work did not win or reconcile lovers.
“I penned my first radio play and sent it to the BBC around this time. Although it did not win a prize, response of the BBC was very positive,” he says. Encouraged, Gitari enrolled for a writing correspondence course from Manchester, England, in 2001. “In December of the same year, I had a small piece on my home-Githunguri-published in the BBC Focus on Africa magazine.” This appears to have motivated him to the point that he put all his effort in writing, drawing from his experience as “Doctor of Love” and wrote Afro Orient Love Masala, a love story between an African man and an Indian girl, that won third place in BBC African Performance competition in 2002.
“I had entered the competition previously in 1998-2000, 2001, and 2002 and refined the play on more than one occasion,” he says. “Writing comes naturally to me. The problem I have is getting a market for my work. The thing that made me write faster on this occasion was that I had been commissioned and therefore already had a market for it,” he said of Matatu Madness. And April 2004 appeared to be a great month for him as the BBC not only commissioned him to write but also hired his matatu for service during the recording of the play on location in Nairobi. “It’s time for Kenyans to write now. We must create opportunities for ourselves,” said an enthusiastic Gitari, explaining that “Radio is a better medium than newspapers and magazines because almost everyone has access to radio.” As such, he said, one has a better chance writing for radio than print media.
“Today’s world calls for one to be versatile in one’s skills so as to bounce back should one miss a job in one’s area of specialisation as I did and resorted to writing. Gitari enjoys watching movies, taking pictures, and cooking. I also dabble in things pertaining to computers, video games and music,” he says. Gitari participated at a film production workshop in Nairobi in July in the hope of becoming a filmmaker. Matatu Madness was directed and produced by Catherine Fellows with Suzy Robins recording and editing it.