Column Squad

Taxi Memoirs: The Taxi Tout With A Penchant For Style


It’s now 9:40 am and Jinja Road Total Petrol Station is mayhem. People who are always going on about how Ugandans are slow should come and see us now. As we duck here to dodge a boda  boda and jump to escape the bumper of a speeding Fuso truck.

I am on my way to Ntinda and soon find my taxi. Before I can sit properly the taxi is already raving to go. Today sharing the front cabin with me is another Lady, the driver is clean shaven and is donning a light blue well pressed T-shirt. You know this guy, the one with some “malala” about them evidenced by rings on every finger and did I mention the shaped eyebrows. His music comes via some electronic stick which I take note to ask my thirteen year old son about later when he comes for holidays.

Judith Babirye is imploring “Yesu beera nange”. As a good Christian woman I take this as a sign that this day is going to be peaceful and enjoyable so I settle in close my eyes and begin to worship. But this does not last.  As we approach the stage on Centenary Park I realize that whereas our driver is quite serene, we have been more than compensated in our conductor. Our conductor is probably twenty years old, well-built and so loud and obnoxious he makes Moses Golola look introverted.

From my calculation he is probably five conductors rolled into one. His calls for Nakawa, Ntinda, Kamwokya ,Bukoto, are so loud that probably people in Naguru and Kololo can hear him clearly. Every time the taxi stops he bounces out, prances all over the roads, grabbing this “senga” or tagging at this “boss” that you wonder what this guy is on.

As if this is not enough he constantly instructs the driver on how to park, how to reverse and when to drive. All this is done while conducting a running commentary on the driving skills of other road users especially the taxi drivers. From this I learn that one “Musana” is a “Fara” I take this to mean that he is probably daft. And that Ssemanda is working so hard he might even die. Things hilariously funny when he tells one man to get out before he crashes him even though he has no such powers seeing that he is not the one driving. At Nakawa he tells some lady struggling to park a Vitz to sell it and buy a bicycle.

At the Spear Motors stage I get a clear view of our conductor as he tries unsuccessfully to get some passengers. He is wearing your typical converse shoes. He is donning Khaki shorts with huge pockets (were they cargo pants before they got mutilated? I wonder), topped off with a black T-shirt.

It’s his attempts at sartorial exclusivity that is quite interesting, for on top of his t-shirt he is wearing a nicely tailored “Kaunda suit shirt” with its sleeves severed off. Looking at our conductor it’s hardly possible that he went to a tailor to be measured for a Kaunda suit. This is probably a two set Kaunda that was bequeathed to Mr. Lout by his dying father or uncle in the hope that he will treasure it and wear it with dignity just as he had. But this has obviously not happened. He probably thought that by casting off the sleeves he was giving his dead relative’s suit a new look and a chance it never had.  Oh the vanity of youth.

Hey, I am a Ugandan woman who spends a minimum of four hours daily travelling in taxis. Like you, I used to dread the taxi rides until I realized that it is a source of a variety of free entertainment and an interesting study of human nature.