ODeL (Online Distance eLearning) Team meeting at 10:00am. There is African time. There are western time keepers. I look at my pale skin and I know I will be held to the Western standards but have to navigate the African challenges. I get up at 7:30am, skip breakfast, dress to the Ugandan lecturer standard.
I hop into the used vehicle we have purchased as of slightly over a month ago. Mostly, kinks have been worked out of the vehicle, I hope. I am careful to sit on a large plastic bag in the driver’s seat because I’ve learned that every time I drive this vehicle my upper left leg explodes with extremely itchy welts. Why? We have not yet understood why. Is it connected to the strange insects that frequently emerge from the orifices of the vehicle? Is it part of the strange litany of things that go wrong in Uganda?
It is why I’m starting out early.
I open our front gate, exit with the vehicle and somehow it dies as I’m half way through. My husband comes running from the kitchen, we discuss what seems to be wrong and decide I better foot it and take a taxi today. 2,000UGX to Mukono. 2,000UGX from taxi park to the university on a boda.
I hail a taxi from the road. The conductor tries to upsell me.
“Satu,” he says.
But I insist, “bbire.”
I am jammed into the vehicle with others, shoulder to shoulder, masked and looking smart. Mostly, professionals on the way to work. 2 kilometers into our short trip the taxi sputters and slowly rolls to a halt. The passengers murmur and tsk. The conductor, scrambles to search under the feet of passengers and sorts out a bottle of water and begins to run up the road, emptying the water as he goes. We are out of petro.
In five minutes he is back, the petro goes into the tank and the driver begins his attempts at starting the vehicle. A simple turn of the key in the ignition? No, not here. Apparently, the battery holds no charge either. The conductor pushes us in reverse down the hill we’ve just crested and the driver tries to jump start the vehicle twice. The vehicle does not respond. They quickly roll the vehicle into a U-turn on the pavement, stopping traffic both ways. We are now facing downhill. The rolling jumpstart is successful. We navigate another U-turn on the pavement between two deep ditches, stopping more traffic. Now maybe we will make it to Mukono.
The driver pulls into the petro station. The conductor requests large bills from certain passengers to top up the petro. Then we are on the way again. A 15 minute drive has become a 30 minute ordeal.
The taxi stops along the road. People get on people get off. There is the general murmuring of the passengers whenever the driver and conductor attempt to orchestrate something to get one more passenger or to drop a few passengers off directly into a pothole. Customer care is definitely substandard but the standard is maintained from diminishing further.
Try keeping time if this is your usual morning commute. Try maintaining a western professional standard if every step in the road from A to B is a struggle. Everywhere you go you find people always struggling to put some few schillings together to make daily wages possible and at the end of the day the tax man gets 20-50%. The roaming bands of legalized and self-appointed mafias get what they demand, 10% or perhaps 100%. And if you are lucky to survive the day now there is the night to survive also, where thieves come to take their cut, while you sleep.
These are the challenges here. Likely I could map them to comparative challenges in the states. but my daily task is to reduce these and normalize them to events that are predictable and do not raise my blood pressure. They should become like a turn-key routine. Every day I lock the door as I leave the house, so that I can find my things as I left them when I return at night. I have no visions of robberies or heists as I lock the door to my home. I routinely turn the key in the lock and move to the next item.