I like using numbers and therefore being specific but on taxis I have failed. I don’t have the actual number of officers in government who use taxis to and from work everyday. What I’m sure of however is that the number in this category might be more than seventy percent of all the Ugandan work force. About ninety percent have ever used a taxi in this city of formerly seven hills - Kampala. About means more than and therefore unpack your luggage, chose what you want to be driven with and we get into a taxi!
There are many faces in a taxi; the fat ones, the small bodied, short and tall ones, the angry fellows, the baby faced and bald headed etc. This constitutes therefore a Katogo of people with different backgrounds with the same purpose of travelling not to the same destination but to a destination atleast beyond the taxi park. Officers, Business people, staff of different categories and organisations fight to enter as well as conmen, terrorists, idlers and ‘diggers’ who commute through it to do their deadly jobs.
Taxi touts are there. They are supposed to direct you but it is sometimes not a simple job shouting the same words for at least fourteen hours a day. Some have faces that suggest to you that it isn’t morning yet, others are smartly dressed, yet the rest seem to be ready for the day. And for those who don’t know what they shout it is so simple and mixed up-say when you are going to our office - Kololo Naguru Nakasero Kuresteda Tawazi Basigadde; and there you sit!!
As they announce the great news, the tout to the chagrin of all passengers says ‘bayisebabari’ Kololo Naguru Nakasero kuresiteda Tawazi Basigadde - even when you are two or three. I usually ask myself whether we shouldn’t call such ‘verbal corruption’. In fact at one time I thought that ‘bayisebabari’ is a kastage on every stage in Kampala. Because I would enter every taxi and hear that word - Seeta-Mukono ‘bayisebabiri’; Kireka Banda ‘bayisebabiri’; Bwaise Kawempe ‘bayisebabiri’ etc.
Other touts are like tax collectors, they stand at a stage and collect revenue from any conductor who allows a passenger to willingly enter his taxi. Abuses follow; and when the taxi gets filled you think that now you are ready for a smooth motion but that is all a dream!
The no nonsense driver jumps into it and you get a feeling that he must punish the vehicle for the sins it committed when it never attracted the passengers so quickly to fill. He sets off with a speed that makes you repent of all the sins you have committed that can come to your memory (if at all you can call it a memory). In fact the very action brings you nearer to your Creator than a sermon from a Pastor or even a Sheik!
While you are praying, you believe that eventually your prayers are answered when you see a policeman adorned in some white thing on his arms. But wapi - the problem of extortion begins with serious negotiations as you wait and worry for you might reach your office rather late. Instead of criticizing the act you find yourself in trouble of allowing compromise for the sake of time. And this gives a kind of idea on offices because as people desire a service, the problem is not whether one will get it but when. Of course we can’t forget the old legalistic adage that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. But justice ‘bought’ is not justice.
Yet some people do such felony when the civil society is watching and waiting. If it is time to pay problems begin. If you give a big note you are in more trouble. Change for that matter is never there. If you pay early, you might end up being forced to pay twice! The man will unashamedly tell you that ‘sigadde awo’ when you paid minutes ago. Any appeal makes you a ‘mubi’. I have ended up paying twice simply to avoid abuse.
You will be relieved when you see the stage of your destination but the relief dies when ‘maso awo’ becomes a distance of more than a hundred meters. Even if you change the language to ‘pakingawo’ the issue is not resolved because the driver will not get any parking - until when you lose temper and compromise part of your nature.
When he (haven't met female drivers) eventually stops the atmosphere is so hot that you can’t even think of looking behind to appreciate that despite all problems they have ‘safely’ brought you to the destination of ‘their’ choice. So with all the anger you rich office and the struggle to relate begins. If you are late you will give a reason. And you fidget around with words and eventually swallow the anger and pride and you put the words boldly ‘traffic jam’. After about one hour of office the thoughts are many. What a way to begin your day! Pray for the affected.