To be Ugandan. To be justly rewarded for my labour. To use my gifts for the benefit of my country. To live. To love. To laugh.
My prerogative to be Ugandan.
Everybody’s talking about the speech, to be more precise, the President’s labour day speech. While listening to all the divergent views, I couldn’t help but wonder if the real question, we are grappling with is not, Am I Ugandan?
What does a Ugandan look like? What does a Ugandan talk like? Like me? Like you? Like Who?Should we have certain core attributes that go beyond a document to define Ugandaness? I should think so. And while, we are at it, I know that taking a low paying job is not one of the attributes. I know this because it is not.
Ugandans love the hustle. I learnt how to drive while working in an office in Katwe, this meant that I had to go through Queensway everyday, in the period before traffic lights were working. A time where even traffic police men never treaded in that area. It was a dog eat dog ride! Highway code? The one whose bumper is ahead is the code. The hustle was real. Suffice it to say, I learnt about right of way when I moved to an office on Kampala road. Grid locks. Tight fits. Quick slips. Scratches & T cuts. Bumpers and rivets.
Then the lights were installed. Applause. Applause. Sanity on the Queensway. Lanes. Straight lines. Cramped but organized. Predictability.
Fast forward to last week, same route with working lights. The dogs are still there, eating you up, if you so much as blink! The one whose bumper is ahead is the light. Follow the car in front of you. You will be fine.
So maybe, all learner drivers just exaggerate. Let us try to catch a taxi to Mukono. A tout calls you, ‘sweetie’, ‘honeypie’, carries your bags and settles you in a taxi. He even pauses to reassure you that the taxi will get you to Mukono in the shortest time possible. You relax. Then people start getting out of the taxi, the conductor comes sends a few missives their way and slams the door. A fight ensues. A few more passengers are coaxed to the door, the now calm conductor opens and they enter. It fills up, off on your merry way. You fly off, home gets closer. Then comes Bweyogerere, everyone comes off in Bweyogerere. The conductor says you should come off as well and get onto another waiting taxi. He does this while looking away from you, usually counting change for another conductor. You are right to be confused. He cannot be talking to you. So we are absolutely clear, Bweyogerere is not Mukono. Dumbfounded. You pay him or you decide you shall let him know in no uncertain terms, this is a breach of contract. In fact, he shall hear from your lawyers! Harangue him, crucify him, the message is clear, this taxi will not be taking you to Mukono. To save the readers time, neither will the next taxi. In order to get to Mukono, you hustle.
For us, we don’t know those things, we stay in the city. Where everything is orderly. Rightttt. Nooo, not right. You decide to go shopping in the market for fresh produce, let us go to Nakasero market. Centre of town.Early morning, there is parking. It is jammed. A parking guide kindly directs you to an open space. He offers to carry your shopping as well. You step out of your car and splat! Right into tomato debris! Another shopping assistant arrives, this time waving buvera.
You: ‘Weren’t buvera banned?’
Shopping assistant: ‘Nedda nyabo, but we also have a kicupu for you.’
You select one assistant and proceed to shop. You push through the crowds while careful to jump over the potatoes, herbs, tomatoes on the road, the pineapples, bananas on the pavement. You are pushed aside by porters shouting fasi fasi. The haggling traders. the trucks backing up. The bodas zooming past you. Your assistant calmly packs and carries. No load is too heavy. You weave your way back to the car. You tip your assistant, I don’t know who his employer is. And slowly realize, as you back up that your kind parking tout disappeared and so did your side mirror.
Ugandans love nice things. Is it trendy? Is it fashionable? Is it nice? It is available in Uganda. It is not in the shops, I have a friend who ships goods on a weekly basis, you just order online. I am going to Dubai in two weeks. I have a friend in China even as we speak. My neighbour is in Jo’burg on holiday. You shall have it next week. It is worth the hustle.
Ugandans love to party, oba that word is too much. Some words have no literal translation into English. Let us work with party. There will always be food and drinks and lots of people, usually uninvited at any event. Even the service providers join in the party, sometimes they make speeches. O Uganda, may God uphold thee!
And how could I forget, they love to pray. Every meeting, any meeting, even lunch, let us pray. Agenda item number one, let us pray. Are you happy? Let us pray. Are you sick? We go for this fellowship. Do you need a visa? Pastor so and so, helped my friend get a visa.
Ugandans are friendly. Everyone is my friend, I just got introduced to you 5 mins ago. Come and meet my friend. Sometimes, you end up related because you have mutual relations. Your cousin’s aunt’s neighbour of that place where they lived when they were young, yes, that one, they live near me! Eh…vigourous handshaking, exchange of phone numbers. BFFs.
Because of the hustle, the numerous friends, events rarely start on time. To start on time, include this in your program. It is important that everyone is friends before the event starts. Everyone has time to recover from the hustle, polish the muddy shoes, realign the tie or scarf. Touch up the makeup. And lastly, but not least, to tell anyone who cares to listen all about your hustle; the one to get to the event, the one to get the right outfit for the event. This has been well received at national level, the guest of honor always arrives when everyone is friends.
Low pay is detrimental to being Ugandan. Then again, it is only my opinion. In the grand scheme of things like freedom, liberty and justice for all, what is low pay.