By Elma Asio
While stuck right in the middle of a traffic jam, it can actually begin to look like every individual in Kampala has a private vehicle. Well that’s until you peek into the taxis and see the rest of us who have been quietly tucked away in them, or just how many of us hail boda bodas to quickly manoeuvre and zip through the traffic to our final destinations.
Using public means of transportation in Kampala, Uganda is often a dramatic experience. If you don’t have drama in your life, you are almost always assured of a little taste while using public transportation.
My greatest worry about using a taxi is that you often end up being stuck with those people who seemingly like to breathe stuffy air. You know the ones I am talking about: those people that sit at the windows (the ones that actually can open) and then decide to fully shut them. I’m often left bewildered. It isn’t raining; the road is clear, absolutely no dust. Do you really know what it feels like to be seated in the middle of the taxi with all these people and not have air to breathe? It’s like a death sentence.
Then there’s the case of the really large people that want you to find some way of jumping over them to get out of the taxi.
“Come on!!” You think to yourself while staring at the person. “I can’t fit through that space. No one can!”
Those of us who frequently use taxis have also had those rare and unfortunate moments of displeasure caused by having to sit next to someone who seems to have less regard for personal grooming or sanitation in general. It’s 7.30 in the morning and you’d think that everyone in the taxi would be fresh. But, no! This man seated next to you didn’t care to take a bath in the morning, and those are certainly not fresh clothes. It could be worse though. You could be seated next to someone who’s at the window and with every whiff of air gushing in comes from an unsolicited stench of his breath.
“Did you care to brush this morning? No? I guess I have no choice but to sit here and hold my breath. Okay, then.”
As you may have noticed, travelling by taxi wonderfully improves your ability to have silent conversations in your head.
Taxi drama isn’t quite complete without the loud passengers that want you in on their own life story. Yes, that dude with the thick accent is having 10 million deposited to his bank account and he may complete his transactions of the day by sending 2 million to the I.T guy, 1 million to the brokers and another 2 million to the farm (and it should be given to Yanga, no one else but Yanga). How about that girl who went out last night and got seriously drunk and she still has no idea what she was drinking. She can’t stop talking about how much fun she had and the hangover that she’s still nursing. And yes, that guy in the back bought a new phone, with a radio, and just loves to share his love for Mad Tiger’s music with everyone.
“Who’s Mad Tiger?” you ask. Probably another “upcoming artist” We have plenty of those. “How do I know Mad Tiger‘s music?” Well he kept shouting his name through out the song.
I know many of us have used taxis far too many times, we get used to their trademark reckless driving. But the way they go over humps is something else. Any woman’s biggest problem with this is simple; the ‘sisters’ don’t like jumping around like that when the taxi goes over humps. It is so unnecessary and uncalled for. It’s worse when the man next to you notices that your milkshake does bring all the boys to the yard.
“Do you have no shame? Please stop staring or I’ll have to charge. Seriously!”
Then there are those awkward moments when the people seated next to you show no shame reading as you type out your messages. Some go as far as watching as you scroll through your Twitter or Facebook accounts. This may be a public means of transport but I’m allowed privacy on my own phone.
“Still not ashamed about what you’re doing? Fine, I’m tweeting about this.”
When the drama isn’t coming from the passengers then the conductors can always oblige to fill the gap. They do this with their crude and yet hilarious comments and responses especially to people trying to bargain for discounts on the fare, and their rather annoying attempts to be coy about giving you your change or their inability to read simple body language.
The Boda boda isn’t without its own madness; for the ladies, that hair that you spent nearly 15 minutes combing and getting the curls to sit just right, all for nothing. You also can’t answer the phone and be able to speak to the person on the other line. Then there are of course the cyclists that seem to have a death wish or are just daredevils that would just love to involve you in their madness. And the cyclists who become a tad bit aggressive when you tell them you’re going into the house to pick their fare; they immediately begin to quarrel that they have gone too far after earlier on saying they understood where you were headed and accepted the amount you were willing to offer.
“Bipolar, perhaps. I won’t hold it against you but please, don’t yell. I don’t want to fight.”
It’s crazy what we go through while using public means of transport and yet as surely as the sun rises each morning, we know that we have to tough it out while using them. Until of course we get our own private cars and then have to deal with a whole new kind of drama.
Regardless of all this craziness, our love for our dear Kampala will never cease because it’s a lovely city to live in.
I am working upcountry in Northern Uganda where public transport is a nightmare, most of the time it is not there and when its there, it comes in the form of crushing behind pickup trucks or tipper lorries. Did I mention you have to part with a fortune to use a boda boda? I cant believe I now wish for those kampala taxis I once detasted, actually I pray to God to send us some. I miss Kampala, Our dear city.