The haggling, the sweet endearments, the lugambo…
Matatu tales: To enjoy a Ugandan taxi, it takes a pro, it takes years of immersion, trying all the different spots, learning about the power dynamics. Not everyone, not every Johnny come-lately can enjoy this experience, it takes skill, it takes talent. Yet, there are some rules to the game of the taxi experience.
The Power dynamics
To enjoy the Ugandan taxi, you must be aware that in this arrangement, power keeps shifting hands. Before you enter the taxi, all the power belongs to the passenger. The customer is king. As such, the customer will earn all the titles in the world. The customer can be Brother aka bulaaza, Sister, Student, Maama, Ssebo, Professor, Senior, name it all. The moment the passenger steps inside that taxi, all power vanishes and is immediately transferred to either the driver or the conductor.
There is also a disclaimer. If a Ugandan taxi asks; “Mummy Ogenda” and you don’t slake your head in disagreement, they will take it for granted that your silence is an acceptance. Therefore, should you make us wait and not deliver on your promise, there’s a barrage of ‘praises” to accompany you. We shall mock you for your poverty, your ugly shoes, your fake hair. Always remember to slake even when you have nothing to do with the taxi.
Making a Seat Choice
There are two sections in a Ugandan taxi, the VIP section and the General Section. The VIP section is the one next to the driver, those two seats. The guys who get to listen and change the radio station. These front passengers also seat on the Board of Governors of that taxi. As such, when reprimanding another passenger, their opinion will count. These VIP passengers also get to enjoy the driver’s ‘kaboozi.’ There is never boredom at the front. And there is no interruption in the VIP section.
In the General section, the first row, the one with the conductor aka ‘Akameme’ is the one you should always avoid. Only choose this seat if you have some cargo or luggage with you. Otherwise, best to leave this row to the legends. On this row, you will always be asked to; “Kwesikamu.” As matter of fact, till Jesus returns, there will always be not less than four people on this conductor row.
The second row is not any better. It is the next alternative when the front row fails. Avoid the seats in line with the conductors. You are going to spend the whole journey getting up so the passengers behind can pass by. Only mafias prefer such a seat. It is the quickest way to escape from a taxi.
The third row in the taxi is the best of all. Also note that regardless of where you sit in a Ugandan taxi, someone is going to be peeping into your phone screen. Everything in a Ugandan Taxi is public. From your newspapers, to the crying baby, to that lady dozing off while falling on your shoulders.
The Back row is for the Seniors, the guys going to the final point. It is also the row for those who trust their voices. You must always shout to be heard. And when the conductor is collecting money, there is a possibility the chaps in the middle rows may not pass the money onto the conductor. When you are at the Back row, exercise caution. However, if you are seeking some form of privacy, you only get it at the back row.
Do yourself a favour and always carry small notes. Do not be the bold guy who hands over a 50K note when offboarding. Leave that to the terrorists of MUBS, Kireka and Nansana. Also note that Ugandan conductors can change along the journey. Be certain you remember your conductor’s face.
There is also one big reminder about big notes. Never forget to hand over a big note when the taxi stops at a fueling station. You will never be forgiven for these treasonous crimes.
When it is time to get off your destination, remember some key words; ‘Conductor Maaso Awo, Nvaamu.” Also remember some key landmarks. The Mosque, the Church, the fuel station. All these will come in handy at the time of leaving the taxi. And remember to worship the Conductor and Driver. Do not shout too much, do not over remind them lest they break your heart.
There is a route system in Kampala. It lives in the heads of the passengers and the taxi conductors. You just must know the common routes and then you will be sorted. You must know the meaning of Kireka-Banda, but also remember that Iganga-Jinja can get you to the same route. There is Bugolobi-Luzira, Nakulabye-Nansana, Namasuba-Zana, Nakawa-Ntinda. The more routes you can master in your head, the more efficient you can become while moving around Kampala and its suburbs. You ought to immerse yourself in some basic Kampala compass lessons, sometimes a conductor will point their fingers upwards that always indicates Jinja, they could point the finger to the left, and they could point it southwards. There is a meaning to those gestures.
Unlike other means of transport, you are allowed to purchase anything in a traffic jam. Equally, the pickpockets can purchase anything from you if your window is open. When the taxi comes to a halt, always hide your phone and bag as far as you can. Resist the temptation to laugh at that funny Whatsapp message. Again, to the team from Nansana, it is also time you stopped eating boiled eggs in the taxi.
Next time you take a taxi in Uganda, remember these hacks and you will always look forward to repeat journeys!
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