Saturday, January 12, 2013

Going Public

‘Going public’ is how folks around here talk about public transportation. Last Saturday David and I made a trip to the south side of Kampala to visit our friend Laura who is an AIM missionary. On our shopping trips we usually hire a driver which allows us to load up on supplies and have space for our propane tanks which need to be exchanged. This time we decided to save some money by going public.

We squeezed into a local car in Kiwoko for the 14 km trip to Luwero. These cars work on the principle of packing as many people as possible in to make the trip as profitable as possible. Concepts of personal space are disregarded as 13 or 14 people (I wasn’t entirely sure of the final count) share the space intended for 8. Once we arrived in Luwero we boarded a ‘taxi.’ These Toyota vans are the main form of public transport and are in varying degrees of condition. They all sport slogans in Luganda or English which often amuse or puzzle us. Eventually the vehicle is filled with enough passengers to satisfy the driver and we head off.

You know you’ve reached Kampala when the people on the road are walking faster than your vehicle. Eventually after some shouting and crafty vying for position our driver succeeds in getting past the worst bottleneck and we arrive two hours later at the Kampala ‘taxi park.’ A bus terminal of sorts, the area is packed with taxis. Drivers eagerly hunt down passengers and conduct you to their vehicles. Once again we wait for the vehicle to fill up before we begin the next leg of the trip. An elaborate game of musical chairs begins as passengers get on and off. Taxis are often loaded down with curious cargo on the roof or under the seats and for this leg of the journey I had the dubious distinction of sitting with a live chicken under my seat for a while. We let the conductor know where we wanted to get off and after negotiating the price we’re finally dropped at the side of the road. Laura lives up a steep hill on the south side of Kampala and so we boarded a boda (motorcycle) for the trip up the hill. Etiquette demands that women sit side saddle. Thankfully I was so tightly wedged between David and the driver that there was little fear of me falling off.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Laura and then it was back down the hill to wait for another taxi. One comes quickly and we arrive at the Kampala taxi park again. By this time of day the park is filled with vendors selling all manner of things. We find the next taxi we need and wait on board for it to fill up. In the space of five minutes 19 vendors approach me to buy everything from handkerchiefs, belts, bread, cold drinks, fruit . . . One chap in a Bob the Builder hat tries to convince me that I really need the water he’s selling.
“I like your hat,” I tell him.
 “Do you want to buy it?” he replies.
After repeated refusals he flashes a smile and says “Thanks for appreciating my hat.” 

We managed to snag the front row seats which gave us the dubious advantage of seeing all the traffic coming towards us. At times I wondered whether the taxi in front of us with the slogan “Better safe than sorry” would have been a better option. By 5:00 we were back in Luwero and then there was the wait for another small car to fill up to capacity. We bumped our way along the final 14 km and finally stumbled out of the car around 6:00. We arrived home tired but thankful to have survived ‘going public.’

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