On a rather uneventful evening as I hustled to get into one of the only available taxis at the stage, I did not think much would occur on such a fine night as this. But little did I know that comedy run throughout every sphere of our Ugandan society as I was about to see with a very animated conductor.
As I sat down, I realized that the conductor announce every couple of meters before each stage and ask the entire taxi which was now full of passengers whether there was anyone coming out. He did it very loudly and in such an insistent manner that I was rather annoyed that he would disturb what little silence was left after the sounds of the radio and chatter of the other passengers who were going on and on about some football match.
Conductor: “Stage waliwo avayo, waliwo avayo….” (Is there anyone coming out at the stage, anyone?) Then he paused as if for better effect and he stared at the back of the taxi before turning off the light in the mid area.
Now when I say turn off I mean disconnecting of the live wires with his bare hands like you would in a physics lab as we were all taught during experiments, every Ugandan understands what I mean. Nearly every taxi has a bulb in the middle section of the taxi but no switch; so the often sweat covered conductor leans over the passengers to reconnect the wires for bulb to come on so as to make sure to give the correct change back to his passengers during the trip.
Conductor: “Tewali omuntu avayo ku stage?” (There is no one coming out at the next stage?)
Passenger with Accent: “Ku kalitusi” (I am alighting right ahead by the Eucalyptus tree)
However I must inform you that given the outside traffic and the sound of our taxi radio, the passengers’ tone was rather low and with the heavy British accent I was sure he was not heard. For even I had to strain my ears to hear him and I still thought I had been mistaken probably due to my fatigue that night.
Conductor: “Hhmmmm” (He continued humming to himself)
This was as the driver continued to speed away until the passenger who was alighting realized that we were about to pass his stage.
Passenger with Accent: “Conductor ku Kalitusi, …(As he let a jeer slip his lips I guess owing to the annoyance he felt for the conductor not being more attentive)
Passenger: “Waliwo avayo sebo.” (There is someone coming out.)
Passenger with Accent: “Towulidde conductor, .nvayo! ……Ehh STOP!”
“Are you deaf, my goodness” (He yelled this time.) (Haven’t you heard conductor. I am coming out…..Eh STOP! )
Conductor: “Eh kati waliwo avayo, nababuza ko, nga musirise. Owaye nga tulabye wano mu Kampala.” (So now there is someone coming out, huh! I asked and you kept quiet, my goodness as we have suffered here in Kampala)
Passenger: “Muyambe, agambye nti no avayo, naye tomuwilidde.” (Help him and stop, he did say he was alighting but you did not hear him.)
Conductor: “Driver waliwo avayo nga tamunyi kuyogera nga mwana.” (Driver there is someone coming out but they do not know how to talk like a child.)
Now all this would have been pretty standard for a trip in a taxi but for the gentleman’s British accent, so even before I turned to look in his direction I only assumed it was a foreigner. But alas I received a rather good shock, for when I caught sight of him it was a chocolate brown colored Ugandan man of a rather mature age – it is safe to say over 45years.
Passenger with Accent: “So you wanted to take me all the way to Ntinda, I do not know what is wrong with you young people.”
Conductor: “I say get out, get out for you – you keep quiet. Kampala not easy – Kampala si mwangu” (Kampala is not simple)
He said this as the driver pulled to a stop and the conductor gave him his change - better known in Uganda as balance as he walked back to where he was supposed to alight in the first place. The rest of us kept silent during this entire ordeal until this point….
Conductor: “If you cannot manage Kampala go back to your village.” (As he jumped back into the taxi and the driver sped off)
Taxi Passengers: We all burst out into laughter at different intervals right up to the last stop in Ntinda.
It is so funny how I laughed so hard that day I forgot all my stress and fatigue and I must have looked like a fool when I got into my next taxi. Not just me but the bunch of us who had alighted at the Ntinda stage from that previous taxi, all I was thinking at the time was - Only in Uganda.