Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I love matatus. It’s a sure sign of my increasing Africanisation. At first sight they don’t seem ideal. Often ancient and rickety, they have cracked windscreens and hanging off bumpers. Inside there is an instantly recognisable smell of blended BO and wood smoke. The seat padding and suspension are definitely insufficient for the deeply rutted and potholed dirt roads of Uganda’s capital city. But I love them!

They’re the most efficient form of transport ever, and my favourite way of travelling (after flip flops of course). They pass along every major and minor road in the country, stop everywhere to drop off and pick up and cost pennies to go miles. They run every few minutes, not according to a timetable as they leave the taxi park only when they’re full. The music is good and the other passengers are friendly . There will be an occasional grumpy goat, but given they’re destined for the pot I can’t really blame them....

I admit I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve not been on one that has broken down or had a drunk driver. The closest I’ve come to a bad experience was driving around Kampala for 45 minutes looking for diesel in a fuel shortage. But, hey, I got to go the wrong way up a one way street in the rush hour (quite exciting) and saw parts of Kampala I didn’t know existed.

When I first arrived in Uganda I was intimidated by the taxi park, which seemed chaotic and dangerous. Now I understand the system, it’s an organised chaos that works. And there are hawkers selling everything from knickers to watches and biscuits to keep me entertained while I’m waiting for my matatu to fill up.

The other day I fell asleep on the way into Kampala and woke in the taxi park to find it was raining. The driver and conductor were both asleep too, and the only other passenger was a woman carefully arranging a carrier bag over her hairdo (rain plays havoc with braids). She knotted the handles together, tucked the ends in, checked herself in her make-up mirror and went off into the rain.

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