Last week I had a heated discussion with a minibus taxi conductor. The locals that witnessed this event rarely see anyone losing their temper, let alone raising their voice in public. Genevieve and I have been using the same bus route for a number of weeks now and, while at first we paid slightly more than the locals, it’s now obvious that we know the price and all the conductors charge us appropriately.

I was having a bad day, I shouldn’t have let myself get frustrated in this way, and I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The argument went something like this:

“Are you going to Bugolobi Market?”

“Yes, 700 Shillings”

“700? You’re joking. We use this route every day and it’s always 300”

“It’s 700 now”

“We’ll pay the same price as everyone else. 300. Can you let us on please?”

He obstructed our path.

“If you come on this bus you pay 700”

“We’ve been in Kampala a while now, we know the price. It’s always 300. It’s not even far to Bugolobi. How can you charge us 700?”

“If you don’t pay 700 you can’t come. We are leaving now”

He signalled to the driver by tapping on the roof of the minibus twice with the palm of his hand. The bus started to edge away.

“Hang on. We’ll do it for 400. Come on – be fair”.

“700 or you stay”

We were meeting people in Bugolobi and we’re already late for them. It would take around half an hour to walk or three minutes on the bus. It was dark. There were no pavements for pedestrians along that road. It had been raining. We really didn’t want to have to work but we also didn’t want to have to pay extortionate prices. We’re volunteering here. We’re not earning an income – it was actually more than we could afford.

“We’re late and you’re making everyone else late. We’ll pay 500. Let us go please”.

He double tapped the bus again and they edged off a little further.

“You will pay 700”.

“No way are we paying 700. We’ll pay you the fair price, 500. OK?”

“700 or we go now?”

We refused his attempts to con us for the final time, shaking our heads as the minibus pulled away from us.

We walked in the dark, along the wet, busy and polluted road for 30 frustrating minutes, dodging truck headlights, treading in puddles of sewage and generally wishing we could have afforded to say yes to the extra 200 shillings he wanted us to pay.

Our friends were waiting for us at the restaurant. No-one expects anyone to be on time here – not even close to being on time. Anything with an hour of the time planned is deemed to be “on-time”. A delicious pizza topped with creamy feta and Italian olives, and a couple of cold Club Beers later and we couldn’t even feel our wet trousers and had forgotten all about the nasty con tricks of the minibus conductor.

A few days later I remembered back to the argument and actually thought about the amount of money that we were arguing about and preferring to put ourselves through the annoyance, rigour and sweat over.

I went over the conversation we had with the conductor, this time converting the shilling amounts into English pounds…

“Are you going to Bugolobi Market?”

“Yes, 20 pence”

“20 pence? You’re joking. We use this route every day and it’s always 9 pence”

“It’s 20 pence now”

“We’ll pay the same price as everyone else. 9 pence. Can you let us on please?”

He obstructed our path.

“If you come on this bus you pay 20 pence”

“We’ve been in Kampala a while now, we know the price. It’s always 9 pence. It’s not even far to Bugolobi. How can you charge us 20 pence?”

“If you don’t pay 20 pence you can’t come. We are leaving now”

He signalled to the driver by tapping on the roof of the minibus twice with the palm of his hand. The bus started to edge away.

“Hang on. We’ll do it for 12 pence. Come on – be fair”.

“20 or you stay”

“We’re late and you’re making everyone else late. We’ll pay 15 pence. Let us go please”.

He double tapped the bus again and they edged off a little further.

“You will pay 20 pence”.

“No way are we paying 20 pence. We’ll pay you the fair price, 15 pence. OK?”

“20 pence or we go now?”

We refused his attempts to con us for the final time, shaking our heads as the minibus pulled away from us.

We walked in the dark, along the wet, busy and polluted road for 30 frustrating minutes, dodging truck headlights, treading in puddles of sewage and generally wishing we could have afforded to say yes to the extra five pence he wanted us to pay.

Absurd isn’t it?!

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