Monday, 27 January 2014

Misguided Police Vigilance


11:45am

It was a day like no other when my sister and I attempted to make our way to the city center by car but had a stopover in Wandegeya where we parked briefly to wait for an individual for a brief exchange. Without leaving the car my sister met the individual for a brief meeting that took maybe 2 minutes, a taxi driver pulled up next to us to the side and blocked us so we could not pull out of the bus stop area wherewe had parked. Now we had parked behind a car in the parking area and another had quickly pulled up behind us so when her quick meeting was over, we had nowhere to go.

 Now every Ugandan knows that our taxi drivers dance to their own beat so we knew better than to rush the taxi driver but rather to patiently wait for him to drive away so that we could leave and head into town. The conductor flung the door open and a passenger briskly jumped out as he passed on his fare only for a police officer to slither from behind the car parked ahead of us in front of the taxi barring the driver from speeding off. Please note that this was not a traffic police man but a normal – police officer who usually wear the signature green uniforms. We thought this confrontation would not take much time and we would be well on our way only for a female traffic police office dressed in trademark white, brandishing an official traffic offence book ready write a receipt for whatever offence stood beside him opening a leaf as she engaged the driver.

5 minutes later

We had patiently waited for this encounter to blow over so that we could be on our way only for it to carry on for an additional 3 minutes. My sister finally got exasperated enough for her rebellious streak to come to the surface and she began to hoot for them to move ahead so that we could drive off.

Sister: “Officer, please allow us to leave.” (She used her hands to action her displeasure after being patient for a while but they took no notice of her and continued to disagree over the offence.)

Police Officer (Ordinary): (After ignoring us for a while) “Allo, madam first wait we deal with this one here – we are still writing his receipt.”

Traffic Policewoman: “Do not even complain, do you know your offence? This is not a parking area….ehhh ……officer what……do not call me.

I was so amused at how aggressive and humorous the female traffic officer was all at once.

Conductor: “Officer naye olabye motoka wali mabega, aparkinze bubi naye tobawadde papula.” (Officer but do you see that car behind, it is parked badly but you have not given them a receipt.)

Sister: Police Officer: “Deal with him where? Officer you already have him in your custody so let him move ahead so that I can pass and you can continue with him on the issue of his offence.

Police Officer (Ordinary): “Leo……….” (He ranted on in some Swahili gibberish for about 3 minutes as we both looked at him dumbfounded.)

I almost looked at myself to make sure that I was not in some sort of army fatigue or police uniform. Did he think we were one of his buddies from training school? I know that we come from the Eastern part of Uganda but that does not mean that all Ugandans or Easterners understand the Swahili language.

Sister: “Eh, officer what are you saying?” (With a frown on her face that clearly showed her discomfort and bewilderment, I decided to make fun of it and silently mimic him.)

Police Officer: “You see madam, this is a no parking area it is for stop overs so that is why we are giving him an offence receipt.

Sister: “Oh no problem officer, that is exactly why I stopped over and did not get out of my car when I got to this bus stop.”

Police Officer: “Yes we also know that it is hard to find parking in the city so we feel sorry for you and allow you to stop over here – but not to park.” (As he leaned into her window I guess for better effect)

Unfortunately for me in this case, I did not get an opportunity to get a clear view of his name tag on his uniform and I was not going to get myself in a bind by attempting to take a picture of him from the front. I did not want my sister’s car to be impounded or something like that since we were right next to the Wandegeya Police station. After a couple of minutes and further persuasion from my sister the receipt was written only for the taxi to be moved forward but the bargaining continued.

I wondered, if you have given me a receipt to pay for a fine due to a traffic offence why do you still continue to engage me and hold conversations after the fact. It simply means that that fine was not going to be paid or was I mistaken? Either way this over vigilant pair wasted about 15 minutes of our time so much that we were now caught up in the midday jam at the traffic lights in addition to the fact that the taxi was parked in a double parking position further aggravating the situation.

Only in Uganda.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Do receptionists learn Etiquette?

Many times when we go to the people’s offices for meetings or to drop into see someone for a quick chat, we underestimate how upbringing impacts and affects our life when we are full grown.  I would like to share my experiences that I had while at 2 different corporate company offices within Kampala.

 Office 1

This was a well-known Ugandan telecom company that has stood the test of time where I had gone with my finance manager to see someone in the finance department who had been asking us to come and sort out some discrepancies in billing for our services. I went through a glass door which had a disclaimer that read “unauthorized personnel should not enter the finance department.”

The discussion between me and the receptionist went something like this,
Finance Manager: “Hello, good afternoon?”

Me: “Hello!”

Receptionist: “………… hihihihi Are you serious, ehhhh let me call you back there is a person at my desk. Good afternoon!” (Youthful and fresh faced lady with a good command of the English language who sat behind a desk and only looked up as she responded after concluding her call)

Finance Manager: “Hello, may I see Mr…….... of commercial section or Mr………. of billing section please?” (I responded playing dumb to the fact that I was sure that the conversation I had cut short was not work related …… but I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt)

Receptionist: “Do you know where they sit?”

Finance Manager: “No!”

Receptionist: “Ahhhh wait and I see…….(She said this as she rose from her desk and moved away from it to take a better look at her pool area where all  the number crunching professionals sat. Only when she stepped away from the desk did she step in full view of us so I was able to see that she was not wearing any shoes on her feet.)

“I cannot see them - both of them are not in,” she responded.

Finance Manager: (Eased his way behind her desk next to the receptionist and peered into the distance at the entire expanse of the room and interrupted her) “Ahhhh I can see Mr…….. He can assist me.”

Receptionist:  “If they can help you…… ” (The finance manager did not wait for her to fully respond as he walked off in the direction of the pool area)
I stood there in shock that my boss had not noticed that the receptionist was bare foot right next to him as he moved past her and made his way to the middle of the pool area.

Me: “I will take a seat here as i wait for him.” (She did not even look in my direction as she sat down and picked up the receiver of the pone and punched in a button and continued her call.)

Receptionist: “Eh so you wama, what was I saying. Yes so how are you going to get in, did you find the key? ……. If my land lady is not there then ………..” (As she listened)
“Yeah just under the rug………..Naye that guy is not serious, is he with the other chic also- two timing…. All men are like that.”

Finance Manager: “Joyce, come here I would like you to meet…..”(She did not even look up at any time and I was very amused at how invinsible she made me feel and yet I was seated only 2 feet from her)

The entire time I was at her desk I had been privileged to listen in on her conversation as she caught up with her girlfriend for over 5 minutes. Yes it was the company phone – I made sure to take note and then when we were leaving she stepped on the top of her shoes and dragged them next to the dust bin which was a distance away to thrown litter into it. Her motion reminded me of the way a duck would slowly wade across the compound to a pond as she was took no notice of me at all.

Office 2

Me: “Good morning, how are you? I am here to see Mr……..

Receptionist: “Who are you?

Me: “Joyce ….. from ……….. I have an 11:00 am appointment with him.” (There are many ways to ask this question in a polite manner but she chose to ask me – who are you?)

Receptionist:  (She made a call on the intercom)Mr………, Joyce here to see you. Have a seat and give him 5 minutes.”

3 minutes later - I sit down next to another lady I found waiting in the reception area.

Me: “Good morning Madam.”

Lady waiting: “Good morning to you.”

Receptionist: (Receives a call on the intercom and then actions to a lady going in to the pool area) “Teddy, help me and take this lady to Mr……’s desk.”(She gave this instruction without even looking up as she had preoccupied herself with her mobile phone at her desk)

Teddy: (who has no idea who has come to see who responds) “Ok”

Lady waiting: (Gets up and follows Teddy past the reception and as she begins to enter the pool area she is called back by an abrupt and shrill voice)

Receptionist: (Finally looks up to see the wrong lady going into the pool area) “Teddy…... not that one the other one!” (She pointed at me using her nose.)

Me: (I stood up and pretended I had not seen what she had done and as I walked past her I said “Thank you.”

Let us just say that in that minute my impression of her changed and that is not something that she will ever change. Be courteous to people, no matter who they are or what their status is you never really know who they are.


Keep that in mind.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Culture versus Common sense


It is the norm for most of us Ugandans to adhere to some sort of cultural norm, the only aspect that is debatable is the degree to which this is done. I am not one to take much notice or even get involved in any discussion of such a nature but a day ago I was very intrigued at how varied individuals opinions can be on one same topic and it is these opinions that I intend to share with you.

About 5 weeks ago I adopted a new hair cut which left me with less than an inch of natural hair on my head. We all know that hair grows so after a while needed to go in to get it shaved back to its original glory. So I geared up to go to the barber shop but little did I know what I would expect, first my usual barber was not yet back from his festive season holiday so I had to hunt for a new one in the area. After a brief stroll I managed to find a new one within the same area, I walked in and I was met with long stares but I braved them all and asked to have a haircut.  As a barber approached me he asked me,

Barber:  “Oyagala okusala nvirizo nyabo?”

Me: Ye sebo! (I responded in luganda)

Barber: “Eh naye abakazi tebagala okusala nviri, naye gwe……!” (He paused as if he expected me to respond or cut in to divulge my life’s secrets and justify my reasons as to why I cut it – I did not.)
“Kale muwala bera wano nkusale.” (Girl, really does this man know how old I am.)

I looked at him briefly and in an instant decided it was not worth it correcting him on my status as a young lady and not a girl or teenager.  After all since my original hair cut and this relieved me of 8 years worth of my cascading mane and had an unexpected freeing effect on me. But that is a discussion for another day. I sat down in his chair for my cut and about 8 minutes into it, the conversation began.

We all know how women’s braiding saloons and barber shops are - someone asks a question or starts a discussion based on a movie or a personal issue, regardless as to how it started this is my account of what lived up to be a very intriguing discussion.

Please note that this entire conversation was in Luganda a local dialect of our largest tribe in Uganda.

Barber 2: “Welcome Customer, where did you leave the little girl? You should have brought her to get her hair done with you.”

Customer: “Child, she is a young adult now. I left her home today.”

Nail Lady: “But these days’ children talk like adults even when they are young.”

News cast on the Anti homosexuality bill distracts entire saloon when it run on a local Ugandan television station that started the whole discussion that followed.

Barber 2: “Eh, but you people these things of men being with other men, I do not understand it. It is like parents allowing their male and female teens to share a room!”

“That is where these problems must have begun.”

Barber: What is wrong with that? What is wrong with sharing a room?”(He genuinely seems baffled by his colleague’s statement, so much so that he stopped cutting my hair for a few seconds and held his hips at akimbo.)

Barber 2: “What do you mean, I was brought up in a traditional Kiganda home and I could not even enter my sister’s room and neither did she enter mine.” “It is unacceptable and culturally unheard of.”

Barber: “You are sister and brother; I do not see what is wrong unless you are the one who has a problem mentally…” (The trend of this conversation was what I expected but nothing could prepare me for this.)

 “…I mean, I have ever shared a bed with my sister for about 2 months and nothing happened between me and her. It is all about what is in your head.”

Barber 2: “Eh, what did you say…same bed! Are you okay?” “It must be these people in ‘Bulaya’ who have spoilt /corrupted us by introducing nice concepts that have hidden negatives such as homosexuality that we have to deal with tody.”

Nail Lady: “You must be mad that is very odd, I would never share a room with my brother. For men all they need to do is use his eyes, why do you think that men abuse or defile 5 year old girls?”

Customer: “Hhhmm...ehhhh” (as she jeered and held her head in disgust.)

Barber 2: “Never, so would you chase your sister out of the room every time you need to change and get dressed.” “My father threw us out of the house to the boys’ quarters the minute we got to s.1 and only the girls remained in the main house. So if we did not shower or wash our clothes that was up to us.”

Nail Lady: “I would never allow a boy to mix with a girl, that is unacceptable there is no way to justify it. It is always important to avoid these problems and not create them by making stupid decisions.”(Toyina amagezi – common sense she said: so is this a classic case of common sense or discipline.)

Customer 2 (female): “You will never end this topic.” (She said this as she walked out of the shop and waved goodbye to her stylist.)

I thought to myself that statement from the exiting customer would end the discussion; well I was very mistaken as I realized my barber still had stamina to keep going from an even more scandalous front.

Barber: “So what would you do if your girlfriend came over to your house and she was not well, in the middle of the night - would you touch her?” (He asked this as he looked in the direction of the other barber who stood alongside him and continued to attend to his customer but emphatically threw his hands from side to side emotively as if in disagreement.)

Barber 2: “Sir, you would not sleep in my bed whether you are my sister or not, it does not matter to me what state you were in dressed, naked, fine, sick,… (he was cut short in the middle of his response.)

Nail Lady: “You see a man is a man, so what happens in the middle of the night when you start to dream and forget that it is your sister lying next to you.”

Barber: “It all depends on what is in your head, it is a matter of mental strength and discipline - I would never touch her.”

Nail Lady: “If you say so! But we all know what we know about men.” (This she said as she shook her head and barber 2 next to her continued to refute his claims)

I was shocked, entertained and schooled on what the general public on the Ugandan streets think about this very controversial bill but also on how humorous Ugandans are as individuals. But something that is more intriguing is the way people’s cultural perceptions of these issues have changed and are changing amongst the youth segment of the population. You ask why I say youth – because all the individuals who I was privileged to ease drop on I am sure are less than 40 years old.


After a while I returned with a friend of mine who wanted to cut his hair as well but I was greeted with some interesting humor from my barber. As I walked back into the same barber shop I was greeted with these remarks from him.

Barber: “Eh as you are back young girl, did your parents or man chase you back to get the hairstyle taken out?”

Me: “………..” (No response.)

What amazed me was how audible he was and the manner in which he managed to blatantly ask the question while finding a way in which not to be confrontational at all. For he continued to cut his current customers hair and avoided eye contact with me the entire time, while he honestly waited for my response.

Only in Uganda!