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The Untold Narratives of a Fat TukTuk Driver

Episode 1

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I did not dream of driving a TukTuk when I was growing up. In fact, I did not even know about the existence of cargo tricycles until I was like thirteen and even then I looked at them from a distance with more curiosity than interest, sometimes in front of big plasma screens behind several strained heads of excited teenagers waiting for a romantic scene in some bad action movie.

But those were days of schooling hard and dreaming big before the elusive hand of fate started unveiling an uncomfortably dynamic side of reality which, more often than not has proven to be disappointing although it has had its rewarding moments as well.

To get right to the point, I am currently one of those guys that might ride past you on those three-wheeled vehicles carrying anything ranging from domestic animals, to flowers, animal feeds, furniture and hardware stuff ‘cruising’ within Ibanda town and far beyond its borders.

When I first started I would get random gigs like once a fortnight, that is, of course besides the water delivery field trips that I would do at least twice a week. But times have changed. These days I rarely go two days without getting a juicy gig and I have consequently got the opportunity to explore new places and meet all kinds of new people.

Also, I decided to chill the popcorn business and focus more on managing the washing bay. So when I am not riding my TukTuk I am always chilling just opposite the taxi park with guys who cannot say three words without telling themselves to go and eat their mothers’ something something.

The vulgar language used to bother me at first but I am getting used to it. Besides, these guys are really disciplined when it comes to giving their boss, that is, me, his money.  Today I did not get any transportation gigs so I spent the entire day at the washing bay.

I rarely take breakfast. Normally I wait until its around eleven thirty or midday and take a meal that doubles both as breakfast and lunch but last night I had a drink and I was having a mild hangover in the morning so after only a few minutes at the washing bay I went to have ‘katogo’ of offals at a nearby restaurant and took a cup of hot milk tea while I was at it.

There is also this waitress there that has been flirting with me. Ever since the day she asked me what I do and I told her that I wash cars at the washing bay, which she did not believe for some reason, her main argument being that men who wash cars do not have potbellies, she has been half-flirting, half-interrogating me each time I show up there, trying to figure out what it is exactly that I do for a living. Whenever I insist that I wash cars she tells me that she sometimes sees me driving ‘Zongshen’ TukTuk and then we talk about some silly stuff and I leave.

When I got back from the restaurant I found Raymond waiting for me. He wanted his five hundred shilling coin that I owed him from yesterday’s gig. Yesterday had also almost passed without any TukTuk gigs. Although I am a strong believer in the don’t drink and drive rule, seeing as it was coming to five and the day was cold and cloudy I thought there was not going to be any driving so I was on my way from buying some cheap booze which I intended to punch with raw lemon when I got a call from a friend in Kampala.

He needed me to transport ten bags of cement to his home, which also happens to be the same village I grew up in. We negotiated and came to a fair price and he told me where to pick the cement from. I had to walk from the washing bay to the shop on main street to put on my helmet and gumboots… oh, and a face mask. You do not want the traffic police to get you without any of those.

After picking my key as well I went to the commercial parking lot just across from the shop and got the TukuTuku. It usually gives me some trouble to start ever since the self-starter stopped working and I started using the kick-starter but after a few kicks the engine roared and I made my way to Dubai Hardware where I waited in vain for my friend’s father to show up.

I called him and he told me to wait for like two minutes. That he was close by. I ended up using that time to add fuel which I did at the closest petrol station. I never used to fuel from this station but ever since the manager got me a nice gig to transport flowers to some place in Kazo District, which turned out to be the home of the gentleman who owns the entire chain of those petrol stations throughout East Africa, I have been fueling from there from time to time.

Besides, the manager promised me there would be other gigs in future so I have to show my face there every once in a while as a way of marketing my services. After fueling I went back to the hardware and a little while later my friend’s dad showed up. The cement was loaded on the TukuTuku and I got paid but we realized there would be no one to unload it at his home so I asked for an extra three thousand so that I could go to the washing bay and get someone to go with. That’s how I ended up travelling with Raymond.

The shorter route out of town was blocked for construction reasons so we ended up taking the longer route. We took the Kigali route, ended up on Kazo road and then drove back, past the market and went off the Tarmac, via Nyakatukura SS and then entered the Fort Portal road near Bam fuel station.

We happened, during that maneuver to pass via Raymond’s home and his neighbors and sister waved at us excitedly after which Raymond asked me to testify on his behalf the next time the boys at the washing bay accused him of being homeless.

Once we were on the Fort Portal road we were good to go. Accelerating but keeping it below fifty kilometers an hour, I chatted with Raymond about anything and everything. I was particularly excited because our destination was the place where I grew up and Raymond had never taken this entire route before so I had to explain every ka little thing there was to explain beyond Kashasha. The names of the trading centers, where the different roads branching off from the main road led to and other stuff like that.

Just after the Kashasha police station which was put in the middle of nowhere because the place was notorious for all sorts of robberies throughout the nineties and early two thousands, we met the Police double cabin and the driver pointed a finger at us. Although traffic police has never stopped me they still make me nervous but it turned out that this one was warning us that an accident had happened ahead.

A driver had failed to negotiate a corner and a Forward tipper had gone off the road and fallen upside down in someone’s farm. There were lots of people already as well as motorcycles and cars and of course the police but we did not stop to get any details. I was hurrying because I try to keep the curfew time in mind. Although the TukTuk is literally considered a cargo vehicle and therefore allowed to travel past curfew time and even though I have been allowed past police road blocks a couple of times during curfew, I try to avoid those encounters as much as I can.

Once we branched off the main road at Bisheshe, and past that Diary where I used to take milk on a bicycle, covering over ten kilometers everyday during the holiday when I was a teenager, we were as good as there. A few more hills and we were in Bigyera.

First the church where I was baptized when I was four years old came into view. I used to go there every Sunday. Back then it was just a Parish Church but right now it is an Archdeaconry. That is where I got born again for the first time when I was like six years old during a mission. Everyone made fun of me afterwards, including my parents who had initiated me into the Anglican Christian cult by baptizing me just two years earlier.

After the church came the secondary school. My mother was the Head Teacher here for eighteen years and it is where I spent the first twelve years of my life. Lots of mischief I did behind that gate. Past the secondary school the Government Primary School came into view.

ALSO, READReckless Taxi Driver Claims Four Lives in Fort Portal

This is where I studied from until primary two when my dad started a private school and I transferred there. Until fairly recently I had no sentimental attachments to that government primary school but then I started dating some wonderful girl who grew up there.

Closing my eyes I can almost see her, twenty years younger but the TukTuk rushes by, and past the local football playground I branch off. Leaving the road to the private primary school where I spent six years as well as the road to Rwenkobwa town council, I branch off towards my destination.

There I find two young girls there who are excited to see the Kapichi-Kamotoka as most kids call these tricycles. Loosely translated it means a motorcycle which is also a car. Raymond offloads the bags of cement and we are good to go but the girls request that I give them a ride so I drive them for like fifty meters and then we set off, headed back to town as soon as they get off. The journey back is faster but the TukTuk makes a lot of unnecessary noise when it is not loaded, especially on these poor murram roads because the cargo bed is loose.

Anyway, the only other stop I had to make was at my Uncle’s place after some trading center called Ahari Mushanju. I was there last week to transport three pigs and my auntie lent me two ropes which I promised to bring the next time I was in the vicinity. I drop them off with my TukTuk and continue without even sitting down for a cup of water but all my attempts to beat the curfew still turn out to be futile. There is already a road block at Kigarama but they let me through.

I stop at Bam Petro station so that Raymond can get off and head home. He still has my one thousand five hundred shillings from the washing bay and I need to pay him three thousand for being my ‘turn-boy’ but neither one of us has coins so I give him one thousand and promise to give him the five hundred in the morning.

After checking my TukTuk fuel tank to ensure that I have enough to pass by the washing bay and still make it to the parking lot I decide to follow that course. It takes a few minutes to balance books with my manager and then off I go, to park the TukTuk and disappear into my hole, where broken dreams, resilience and brilliant plans rest easy for a while, looking forward to tomorrow, hoping, but clueless of what may unfold.

Author is a TukuTuku rider who does deliveries in Western part of Uganda in areas of Ibanda, Kamwengye, Kitagwenda or Kazo districts who owns Lito Delivery and Transportation Agencies. Contact by sending email at timesug2@gmail.com

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