Once upon a time in Uganda transport with passenger trains was the norm. During my childhood days, my father volunteered several stories that had to do with boarding trains and carrying the hopes of the entire village with one as one went to the city to seek some kind of bright future. At the time, boarding the train was a sign that one’s life was progressing because it meant that someone was moving to greener pastures. Fast forward to several decades later; the train is restricted to a page in the books of history talking about construction of the railway. Also, the worry today has shifted from losing one’s property on the train to finding a personalized car number plate or having tinted windows on one’s Range Rover.
Not too long ago, there was a bus service company that offered what appeared to be a solution to insanely expensive transport to and from the city outskirts. Last year, I even volunteered a little piece on Boarding the Pioneer Bus in Stealth Mode especially if you are a snob. Several months later and the Pioneer Bus service has since become defunct; it appears that we are stuck with the commuter taxis for a while.
This is a taxi park … disorganized organisation just
Now if you have not been to Uganda, you probably think a taxi is a convenient little ride that will take you from point A to point B in the quickest time possible with as little exchange of vile words with the driver as possible. You also probably think that when you reach your destination after using the taxi you will have the luxury to thank the driver for dropping you off and you might even tell him to “keep the change” out of the goodness and kindness of your heart. If this is the picture you have, you need some real orientation. It is not that Ugandan passengers are not kind or anything but taxi rides in Uganda warrant no such thing as kindness to drivers and conductors.
If you are new to the taxi scene in Uganda, allow me to take you through a few basics about this so called taxi. In short, ladies and gentlemen, I present your taxi guide.
The Taxi stage
This is a spot that can be likened to the bus stop. It is usually crowded with individuals screaming names of different locations to try and get people to board the taxis available. When you get to the taxi stage, you are most likely to be referred to as Boss, Reverend, Sister, Nalulungi, Mugagga or Senior. Of course this is supposed to be some form of endearment to encourage you to board a specific taxi but it might be a little off-color especially if you are being referred to as Hajji just because of your bushy beard and short pair of trousers. On some occasions you might be shoved towards a certain taxi especially if it seems like you might be thinking about taking a taxi different from the one you are being ushered to. When this happens, do not call the cops; the unemployed noise makers are simply doing their work. Apparently they are hired to nudge passengers towards certain taxis and in return a few coins are tossed in their direction. They push and shove you because they worry that you might leave your home intending to go to Entebbe, reach the stage and suddenly change your mind to go to Masaka. So they are there to remind you about where you ought to go.
Passenger 15, 16, 17, 18 et al
There is a very clear marking on each of the taxis that the vehicle is licensed to carry 14 passengers. Most times when you use a taxi, you will realize that this little law is shagged to within inches of its existence. If you are travelling within the city, you will probably enjoy the luxury of being just 14 passengers because after all, the cops in the city seem more intent on grabbing traffic offenders. However, if you are boarding a taxi in a place far away from town, many passengers will most likely be crammed into the public service vehicle so much that you might end up brushing your nose against someone else’s armpits. This however is just but a minor inconvenience because in some upcountry places, there are not so many taxis that ply that route and so when you get one, be thankful to the gods even if you have to sit on the gearbox.
The taxi you board might equally be transporting a lot more than just human beings
Spreading the word of God
Everywhere you go, there is always going to be someone keen to spread God’s word. If you board a taxi and somewhere along the way someone randomly tells you to “Praise the Lord”, do not dive for cover. Even if you are travelling back from your adulterous errands or you are on your way to the local bar, be brave and wear a bold look. Simply brace yourself for a message of God from the taxi preacher. It may or may not be about your sinful ways and the dirty thoughts you harbor inside of you but it will surely be directed at you. This word of God is usually free of charge, uninterrupted and very compulsory. Taxi preachers will use one of two strategies to drive their point home. They might be kind enough to spread a general message about how Jesus loves each and every passenger and how no one will go to the Father except by his son Jesus Christ. They might however not be so kind and decide to use the guilt tripping method. This involves making you feel like you are a worthless and sinful fellow destined for hell’s fires. You can deal with this in two ways; either hope that one of you leaves the taxi early or you can plug in your earphones and pretend that you are in another dimension. The danger with plugging in your earphones mid-sermon is that your perceived rebellion will become the message for the rest of the passengers.
I am pretty sure if you board the same taxi with Pastor Ssempa, he will try to tell you about the abstinence pride
The non-existent other passenger
One of the unwritten rules that taxi conductors and drivers live by is that the next passenger is just around the corner. It does not matter whether or not this passenger can be seen or whether they even exist. All that matters is that the conductor regularly bangs the taxi to remind the driver to wait for that other passenger who should be coming around from the corner any second. When this happens, I often walk out of the taxi, peep to see if this person exists, then I offer to tell the driver that there is no passenger coming after all and therefore we should move along. This has worked for me quite well on some occasions but I would only recommend that you do this when and if you have the balls to endure the tirade of insults that might be hurled at you by the conductor. These conductors have the most lethal and dirty language. They have the ability and capacity to insult you, your lineage and every one you have ever known. Therefore you should venture into the confrontation knowing well that you might get floored by a motor-mouthed conductor.
Traffic Jam Madness
Anyone who drives a private car in Uganda has at one time cursed either a bodaboda rider or a taxi driver. A full explanation of who the bodaboda cyclists are will be offered another time; when one of them has pissed me off and I feel like ranting. However, the taxi drivers are known to be great enemies to private vehicle drivers. Interestingly, when asked, the taxi drivers also mention the drivers of private vehicles as the worst drivers ever; too slow, extremely undecided and overly boastful on the road. Since today we are focusing on taxi drivers, I shall do just that. When you are stuck in a traffic jam, the general rule is that everyone should wait for their turn to move; no matter how slow the movement may seem. Well, taxi drivers usually have no time to waste so they will either create another lane or simply find a way to maneuver through the little spaces that exist within the traffic. The result is usually more traffic confusion marred with insults traded over loud car hooting. Obviously if you are in a rush and you are running late, this attempt to beat the traffic may seem more than welcome and you might hear a passenger or two cheering on the taxi driver-cum Formula one driver. This is only until you are the one whose car is being forced into a ditch because a taxi is trying to squeeze through the spaces within the traffic.
There is a lot that goes on in and around the taxi for instance the smelly conductors, the noisy taxi radios, the sudden change of taxi routes mid-journey, the fluctuating taxi fares as well as the interesting markings on taxis. All these things go a long way in emphasizing that the taxi business is but a very big part of our culture; for better or for worse.
“You can’t understand a city without using its public transportation system.” – Erol Ozan
Have a wonderful week passengers
The Talkative Rocker