By Peter Bahemuka and Bamuturaki Musinguzi
Pictures by Morgan Mbabazi
Published November 9, 2012
Some of the things Ugandans do border on the absurd and yet the citizenry have long taken them as normal and are passing them on to the next generation as best practices, Peter Bahemuka and Bamuturaki Musinguzi write.
Invite Ugandans with perfectly ticking watches strapped to their wrists or fully functional clocks on their mobile phones to a party that is starting at 4:00pm and they will turn up at 6:00pm. To them, time is not a specific point in time but rather a period in time.
Politeness and courtesy have never been part of the vocabulary of the drivers and conductors of public service vehicles locally known as taxis. For example, if you complained about speeding or unfair hike in the fare, they will rudely ask you to buy your own vehicle.
On a hot day a man dressed in neck-tie and jacket shuts the window of the taxi, but you notice him sweating all through the journey and you wonder why he does not open the window to cool down.
To make matters worse you could be seated next to a man in a taxi or bus who suffers from “carbon mugere”, local slang for athlete’s foot and toenail fungal infection, with the stench it generates from his sneakers or gumboots. If you every find such a person, you should direct them this website for help: Yellow Toenails Cured.
Taxis will stop anywhere to pick or drop off a passenger. What about when a female passenger picks money dampened by sweat from her bra to pay for the fare? Or a man picks cash from his smelly and sweaty socks to settle his fare?
When the passenger train was still in use it would not deter a man lighting his smoking pipe in a crowded third class carriage (we used to call it kayoola or general happiness) leaving the other passengers to near suffocation.
If Ugandans are not spitting all over the corridors, roads and footpaths, then the men are taking a pee on the road side. They do this without a thread of shame.
Beware of boda boda (motorcycle taxi) riders when paying your fare with large bank notes Ushs5, 000 ($1.9) and above. In the process of looking for charge they could speed off leaving you stranded. If you are a lady they could snatch your hand bag as well.
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And there are the perpetual cheats, the shopkeepers and market vendors who operate faulty weighing scales and containers manipulated in their favour. The bakers are infamous for selling bread that is less than the standard 400g weight of the bread.
When you enter a restaurant, it may take you five to ten minutes before a not-so-polite waiter comes to take your order, making you feel like you are a nuisance. Even when your order is delayed there is no apology.
You enter a public office and you find the receptionist applying lipstick or powder to her face. You are forced to wait for her to complete her beautification regime before she attends to you. When she lets you through you may only find a jacket of the officer you wanted to see behind his chair. When you inquire about his where about you are informed he is around but no one is sure what time he will be in the office. But the officer could well be miles away attending to their own personal matters.
Then there are the popular phone-in talk shows on the numerous FM radio stations. A regular caller to a particular talk show may call in towards the end of a debate and ask what the topic or theme is. Others call in to make contributions and then talk about things that are unrelated to the show. This tells you they have not been following the debate.
A man may call in to a talk show as follows, “I wish to send my greetings to my wife, who is seated next to me here.” Then he hands over the phone to the wife who repeats the same process all over again. Well, does one need to send greetings to his wife seated close to him and vice versa in the same breath?
A stranger stops you on the street and without greeting you, asks for direction to a particular place. You oblige and direct him or her. He or she then continues with his or her journey without thanking you. Or you could be kind enough to stop a man and alert him that he forgot to pull up his zip on the trousers. Without showing any appreciation, the man zips up and continues with his journey.
There are landlords who conduct their own selfish load-shedding besides the notorious one by Umeme electricity national service provider. These landlords switch off the power at 7:00am and back on at 7:00pm. They claim that tenants over-use the power.
Still there are landlords who will demand rent upon seeing a tenant preparing matooke and meat, an important meal in central Uganda. In their thinking a tenant cannot have matooke and meat before settling his/her rent. Such a landlord will furiously threaten to throw you out of the house or remove the windows, doors and roof.
Then there are landlords that rear goats, dogs and chicken which drop their waste in the compound and on the verandah. And the tenant has to do the cleaning. Should you attempt to suggest that the animals be put away in an enclosure, you are rudely reminded that that particular homestead is the home of animals and chicken.
What about those among us who carry toothpicks in their months in public after a meal? You would think they are supposed to leave the toothpicks in eating houses, but they go picking their teeth in public.
Enter a bar and you will be put off by people enjoying their beer with drinking straws. You see people sucking their beer from the bottles or even glasses. You begin to wonder whether the fact that drinking straws were invented for sucking soft drinks has never sunk into some people.
The mobile phone technology has come with its own bad habits. There are those who will answer their phone calls in offices, taxis or bus on top of their voices much to the annoyance of the other passengers. Others tell such blatant lies (not the white lie type) on phone. For example, you are watching a football match in Kampala and hear your immediate neighbour tell the caller that he is about to reach Jinja.
Come to think of it, when you have an engagement and call people to inquire their whereabouts they will always tell you lies. They will most likely say they are on the way or 10 minutes away even if they have not set off. If they are 20 miles away they will say they are 5 miles away. If one does not answer your phone calls, they will press the busy button or hand it to another person to inform you that, ‘She left the phone charging. Can you leave a message?’
There are people who still beep even when the call rates have come down considerably from Ush400 ($0.15) to Ushs3 ($0.001), thanks to the stiff competition. When you call the beeper he or she will reply: “I just wanted to say hello.” Then why wouldn’t he or she call instead of beeping if they wanted to greet you?
Ugandans are also naughty public library users who will not hesitate to tear out an entire page of a newspaper or magazine. If they do not pull out the page or cut out a picture of a famous person, they will decimate the page with ink. This mutilation of the written word is carried out through ticking or underlining words or sentences. Or worse still they will introduce their own words. This emanates from the unfortunate anomaly of allowing readers into libraries with ink and not pencils only, as is the practice elsewhere.
If you live in low income suburbs you may be unfortunate to live next to a neighbour who keeps the volume of his radio or television at full blast. In such circumstances his conversations are almost always high tone. If the houses are without ceiling boards you will not be able to listen to your own radio or television let alone hold any decent conversation in your own castle.
The catalogue of the annoying things Ugandans do goes on and on. This is just a snapshot of what we are living with.