Taxi Tales: Old School Taxis
By David Tumusiime, Uganda:
When I was much younger and started travelling in taxis (kamunyes'), I used to sit on the 'kameme' with the conductor. Remember that? It used to be that children under 10 years old had no business taking up space on the 'adult' seats. Neither did the conductor.
Even then it was illegal to sit on the 'kameme' and I remember whenever we would be about to drive past a traffic policeman, the conductor and I would be ordered to take cover by the driver in the lap of the person we were scrunched up infront of.
Take cover was so ingrained that no one seemed to find it odd when a conductor's head would disappear down the mountainous folds of an old woman's gomesi. All to avoid the traffic policeman spotting that the taxi was 'overloaded.'
Those were the years when the term 14 passengers only meant nothing. At first I even used to think it was like a racing car number for taxis because taxis then had a policy of no passenger shall be left by the roadside. No matter how packed the taxi was.
Maybe this partly explains why back then we could have a stage of Shs. 300. Yes, you could, at one time in the past, travel in a taxi for the price of one PK chewing gum, for those who can't do without chewing gum.
But I jumped quite a bit ahead of myself. Before children had anything to do with being on taxis, and when all in the taxi were concerned about them, there was an earlier age: The time before taxi conductors existed in taxis.
Hard to believe, but yes, there was a time when the taxi driver was also their taxi's conductor. On most of the routes out of town into residential areas like Ntinda, Bwaise, Nakulabye, Luzira, there was this trust between the driver and passengers that no passenger would try to run out of the taxi without paying.
Let's not idealise it too much though. I never enjoyed travelling in the 'kigatti' taxis much. Those were taxis shaped like loaves of bread. There were also others called 'Kikere' and 'Ngege.' A taxi had one standard to be a taxi back then: it had to be very, very old. Old and filthy. Sometimes you needed a mat to sit on your seat in them.