Column Squad

Taxi Memoirs: Falling For Lies Spoken In French


My first encounter with the French language was through our blind history teacher who always insisted that we start every lesson with bonjour papa. Comme-cava, cava bi en papa. We didn’t even know what this gibberish was all about. And teacher John being a smoker, (who knew what he was smoking) made us think we were saying some made up words. Then came the devilishly handsome Rwandese refuge teacher whom the girls gave the nickname ‘ponga’ on account of his swag.  We would hang onto every little word he chose to drop out of his mouth once in a while. But after several episodes of Riviera on UTV, I decided that I had to learn French because I was planning to migrate to the French Riviera and live like those people. I promptly joined Alliance Françoise then at the National Theatre and ‘mastered’ the French language although my dream of leaving on the French Riviera has not yet come to pass. But you never know.

So today on my way to Bunamwaya, I find myself seated with a Congolese national and I don’t regret because he is very polite and smells heavenly. He is also groomed to inches of his life. His attention to detail is so perfect that he makes Peter Sematimba look shaggy and unkempt. His coal black hair and orange skin make you think that when Lucky Dube composed different colors one people or in this case one person, he had this guy in mind. I feel completely mortified when I catch a reflection of myself on his forehead because next to him, I look dowdy and messy. I vow to myself that I will start looking after myself better starting after the general elections.

I try to start a conversation in Luganda but he doesn’t respond. I try English and he manages to come up with a few words to explain that he only speaks French. I jump at the opportunity to brush up on my lessons. I start on Je suis, ill habite, lll travaille and delve into Esc e que ce travail. . . but soon I completely run out of nouns, pronouns, adjectives both masculine and feminine and just when Jean or Ja as he pronounces his name was beginning to warm up to me. The conversation descends into grunts and polite smiles and grinds to a halt. But Ja isn’t a fool and he spots a chance to sell his wares, after all jewelry is a girl’s best friend.  He pulls out a small briefcase crammed with rings and necklaces which he insists are all 100% gold. Well, I know that gold grows on trees in DRC but I also know that a solid gold ring should cost more than 10k. Seeing that I have let many opportunities pass me by including learning French and migrating to the French Riviera I decide to change that by buying myself a 10 carat gold necklace at only 5k. To my surprise, by the time I get home, my 10carat gold necklace is completely stainless steel. As I fall asleep I pray that God grants me the wisdom to know the difference between gold and stainless steel and to know which opportunities are worth seizing and those that should be left pass.

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.