One thing with group travels is the chaos that never misses. There is always that one person who delays the rest of the group as they give disjointed excuses, “I’m on a boda”, “I’m stuck in traffic”, “My shoe has a flat tyre”, “I forgot my wallet,” “I thought departure was two hours form now”. Somehow the excited crew always finds the patience to wait if they can afford to or if the driver is one who has a bit of time to listen. I played the latecomer’s card this time round and I was left behind.
I was left behind not because of any of the excuses above but because I hadn’t made up my mind to go. I ended up packing in the morning and qualifying myself for a delay. Of course they left me. What if it were you!
The advantage of traveling light is that even when you are very late, you can afford to jump on a boda boda and catch up with a few things.
When planning for a four day trip, especially when going to a place like Kapchworwa, there are some things you can never take for granted, the coldness is not only for world cup but an award winning one, set apart without competition, one of its own kindred. I carried a light jumper thinking everything was thereby sorted.
For being late, I did not even bother chasing the entire team that had started their journey an hour earlier. I crossed downtown to the old taxi park and boarded the next taxi to Mbale [read: Mpale].
Thoughts have a way of wandering unattended when they are left alone. In the midst of many other passengers, who at the time are only random people going about their businesses, it becomes hard to engage especially, if you, like me, are the kind that prefers to sit back and listen. You have to keep reminding yourself to stay focused lest your thoughts, like a little boy seeing others play, run away.
In such circumstances you miss how strangers voluntarily share their experiences of how they fell or survived phone theft at the Namawojolo chicken point. Speaking of which, from the onset of the journey, I was drowned in the contents of the book I was reading. I avoided following up with the gossip in the commuter taxi until we drew nearer to Namawojolo.
There is a craving which dawns on you as you approach this place known to many as the headquarters of roasted chicken. For me, it always has to be chicken and a bottle of cocacola. After getting my pieces, I sit back munching away only to be called to attention. One of the passengers claims to have lost their phone during the short break.
“Esimu zange bazibye,” he laments with a restless search in the pockets of his raincoat.
“Ani?” chips in a concerned woman, the kind that easily fits the role of women representative at the Local Council committee. I don’t know why they are always bubbly.
“Ab’enkoko,” cries out the man. He confirms both phones are missing. He is on his way to meeting the rice farmers. He buys the rice from the farmers before he exports it to Rwanda or Kenya, one of the two. But do Kenyans ever eat anything that is not ugali?
At this moment, about nine of the taxi passengers are all sharing their expert views on how to go about the process of recovering phones. A black man with a purple cap on his head dials the numbers of the lost phones but no one picks up. They were two; the smart phone and the smaller one just like any other Ugandan with a two-phone-obsession.
One thing though, no one is in support of the idea of returning to Namawojolo. This is when I learn that the majority of the passengers aboard are basubuzi. They are always on the road. They get merchandise from Mbale and take it to Kampala on the same day. They have built networks and support systems through which they run their businesses. Robbed guy is in that category, whereas he deals in upland rice, a number of his fellow basubuzi deal in potatoes and vegetables.
Later on the nth trial of calling, the lines go through and the voice over the other side claims to have picked the phones and is keeping them safely, they will be available upon return. He directs him on how to get them back.
The story changes, calm returns on the face of the man. He was drained and restless. He folds his coat on the taxi girders. He can now participate in the conversation of the majority. Item 4 on the unwritten and impromptu agenda is about the growing trend of women bleaching. This is when I pity the driver. He is itching to take part in the conversation but his binding obligation won’t let him turn his head for a second. Even his few submissions are often carried away by the wind. But this is an interesting conversation nonetheless.
Women love it and so are the men. Men give their uncensored opinions as women defend them.
“I hate men who always want to decide for women.”
“And such men are usually stingy. That’s why I decided to work for myself.”
“Wama, bagambeko. I also want to look good. I stopped admiring other women”
“I love caring for my skin I can’t imagine myself bleaching,” sneers the one at the back as she admires the blackness of her arms— showing them to the man— “don’t you admire us?” she snubs.
There is a disgruntlement among men, they don’t seem to have a ready response to these women who won’t, of all things, shut up.
“Nze, I prefer to see my Nalongo as natural as I found her. And I keep reminding her.”
“Me I got fed up of women, whether bleached or not, they are all the same,”
The conversation carries on. Words fly across from the back seat to the front and break in the middle and the routine continues.
The contributors grow tired with exhaustion from the arguments. Sleep creeps in through this silence knocking off one by one. The struggle to keep awake turns out to be more important than arguing with strangers.
My neighbours move on to item 6 of the agenda; infrastructure. There are so many roads under construction along the way. One argues the work has delayed, the other claims the money took some diversion before he is reminded that residents refused compensation.
My phone rings, its Norah, the lead coordinator of the entire trip calling to tell me they are past Iganga. They have not yet reached Mbale. It is a quarter past midday. I wonder they have been all the while.
I underestimated the length of the journey and the loneliness of traveling alone. Mbale is not as near as it sounds in pronunciation, it is a whooping hundreds of kilometres of tarmac.
I am tired of following the agendas of discussion. We have been sitting for 3 hours and I am tired. I need to stretch my long legs that are crammed in between two sacks of God knows what. My head seems detached from the rest of the body given the way it is swinging with reckless abandon. I give up. I, too, need some sleep. I will get to Mbale when I get there.