Reflections

How to forget about Ebola

By Brian Friday Bwesigye:

The news of the Ebola outbreak in Uganda is not new anymore. News becomes an adult in a day and we are now speaking of very many days of the Ebola outbreak. By now, the usual suspects have issued their infamous travel advisories warning their more-than-us humanity from traveling to Uganda.

I hate those travel advisory messages for their insensitivity to the humanity of us, Ugandans and the selfishness and 'privilege' of those peoples who issue them and whoever they issue them to. See, in 2010, around July, there was this lady from the United States, I think specifically from the Indiana state, if such a state exists – who was doing a short internship at the organization where I was working then. Some truth here is that this was the first ever African-American I was meeting and I was taking long to get used to a non-forced American accent combined with natural hair – the famous Afro. I was still staring at her than talking to her when the Ebola news attacked. The news was that it was suspected that there was Ebola in western Uganda, parts close to Congo, but no confirmation could be made. And guess what, the next day Tiffany (that was her name) did not come to work, she had boarded the late evening flight out of Uganda following a travel advisory from the state department, which her family found compelling. Ebola was faster than me; I never got her contact details.

Fast forward to 2012. End of July, beginning of August. Ebola in parts of Uganda. I am in Entebbe for a residential event when this news comes in. I own no car, which would be the easiest way to get away from Entebbe to wherever without body contact. Health advisories that tell us to avoid body contact mean no transport for public transport users like me.

I loiter around the hotel hoping to find someone who has a car so I can fluke a lift to Kampala. An hour later – nothing. Two hours, no hope. I head to the taxi-stage but still hoping for a blessing of a friend passing by in a car. I stand-ko for minutes at the taxi-stage looking at taxis like they are moving Ebola-transmission machines for some time, till I see an internet café nearby. I take my hopes to Facebook. I ask a few friends who live in Entebbe and all of them inform me that they have already left for Kampala. Disappointed, I storm out of the café, only to be met by a female who is pointing at a taxi and insisting that I board it. She keeps eye-contact and for a moment, my disappointment disappears. I ask if she is a tout or the conductor. She says she is the conductor and somehow, I forget about Ebola and board the taxi.

It's not everyday that one meets a female taxi conductor. This is my first ever time and so I have to relish this golden opportunity of traveling in a taxi 'conducted' by a female. The entire journey, I am observing things.

When a passenger tells the conductor that he does not have enough money for the journey and so she should throw him out at the last point that his 500/= coin can take him, I attribute her kindness, allowing him to travel beyond the stop, until there is need for space for a passenger to pick, to her femininity. When a female passenger shouts 'maaso awo' but she misses it and so the taxi stops further than the stop the passenger intended to alight from, I sympathize with the conductor when the passengers start hurling insults at her. I particularly take issue with the female passengers that in my mind, I accuse of female self-hatred. When after picking passengers at Kajjansi stage, the tout abuses the conductor by referring to her hair as evidence of poor upbringing, after she has given him less money than agreed, I tell myself that the tout is reacting to a loss of employment to a female and loss of power over the choice of hairstyle of the conductor. When the driver steps out of the taxi to buy some airtime and a careless and reckless boda boda rider knocks him, starting a mild quarrel, which the driver is quick to withdraw from, I look at his physique and his soft voice to find explanations.

I gender-ise everything, including the driver's mannerisms and appearance from which I conclude that he could only work with a female conductor because he does not have an obsession with a patriarchal control complex. All this consumes my time, so when someone says ku-stage, as we enter Nakivubo Mews, it hits me that we have reached Kampala. Unfortunately, it is a traffic officer that waves us to the roadside, for wrong parking and some other random traffic offences. We all have to leave the taxi, but as I leave I make sure to say Bye to the conductor that has made my day. She responds with a suggestive smile and a faint Bye. All blame is on the traffic officer who has spoiled the ultimate knowing-her-better strategy I was hatching while we journeyed. So, I haphazardly take some back-steps, hoping for a handshake, or a hug – this happens instantaneously but she just waves me away with that un-humble “Ebola” word.

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