Yesterday I was not in a fight, but rather saw my first fight in Uganda. This fight was over a woman – me. However, it was not between jealous lovers. Rather, the fight was between two taxi drivers vying for my fare.

In Kampala, if one doesn’t have a car or is too scared to drive (me), there are two other forms of transportation to get around. One option is to take a boda-boda which is a motorcycle. The other option is to take a matatu which is a shared van that is licensed to carry 14 people, but usually has upwards of 16 people crammed into the small van.

At MCDT, we usually travel via matatu as this is the cheapest form of transportation. Loan officers and I catch the matatu at the taxi stop by the Kampala branch. Yesterday, Rose and I headed to the taxi stop to catch the Jinja Road/Kampala Road matatu. These matatus show up constantly, and there are usually at least two waiting there upon our arrival like there was yesterday. At each stop they wait in hopes of filling up their matatus with passengers before heading to the next stop – this wait can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes.

Matatus love muzungus (white people) as they tend to not know the proper prices (there are no real set prices – one just needs to know how much to pay) and can be pressured into paying higher prices. When I travel on matatu, I go with a loan officer who doesn’t let the conductor (the one in charge of collecting passengers and money) overcharge me. Rose, being the ever-conscious loan officer she is, not only protects me from being charged too much, but also bargains to ensure she can save MCDT even the smallest amount. Yesterday was no different.

As we set off on our way yesterday, we headed to the taxi stop and stood there with a look of not caring in an attempt to get the conductor to lower the price. Two conductors were vying for our business until finally one conductor offered us the ride for 300 shillings rather than 500 shillings. We immediately boarded his matatu and Rose was very satisfied with her powers of persuasion. Unfortunately, the matatu conductor that lost our business was not impressed.

Immediately after we boarded, the matatu conductors started arguing and the one whose we did not board began sliding our van door closed so no one else could board, clearly angered by our decision not to ride with him. Our conductor was getting more and more annoyed with this behavior but mostly ignored him and kept opening the door and acquiring passengers. The other conductor got even more angered by this and then started pushing our matatu driver. The pushing was not to be tolerated and the two drivers exchanged more heated words and harder pushes. Through this entire altercation, people barely watched as apparently this is “normal” behavior for matatu conductors.

Finally, our conductor boarded our van and our driver started the engine intent on moving onto the next stop. The other matatu conductor would not have this and stood in front of the van, not allowing us to pull into the two lane traffic. Our driver, used to the treacherous driving conditions in Kampala, was amazingly able to maneuver around the angry conductor trying to standing front of our van. However, seeing that our driver was heading onto the street and away from the angry conductor, the driver of the other matatu (and apparently the partner-in-crime of the angry conductor) then pulled into the street and positioned the van horizontally so that both lanes were blocked and no traffic could pass.

Eventually, all passengers including Rose and I got off the matatus and boarded other vans. These matatus and the other traffic started passing the feuding matatus by driving on the sidewalk. I have no idea how long the vans stayed feuding and basically blocking traffic, but what I realized was something more personal: In the 8 weeks I have been here, little now surprises me and my patience has increased incredibly. I now know I will eventually end up at my destination, I just have no exact idea how or when.

<< Fellows Updates