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Monday, January 7, 2008

Never board a ramshackle bus

It was probably the slowest journey I ever took! A 'Traveller's Choice' Isuzu Reg. No. UAA 389C bus I was on left Mbarara at 1 p.m and entered the Kampala bus park at exactly 7:15 p.m on a journey that would have taken us four hours at most.

For lack of better expressions, the bus was dull, old, weary and completely unworthy to be on Ugandan roads. Why then was it boarded in the first place? It just happened that on that fateful Tuesday, transport means were rather tricky and people were desperate to get to their desired destination.

Just a few kilometres after the monstrous bus had gained speed, it stopped. Apparently, the bus turned very hot every now and then and had to make intermittent stopovers to cool down. That would not have been the problem only if the driver and the conductor had cared to inform us before we boarded.

There I was, stranded, and yet I had a serious meeting with friends in Kampala. What was I going to do? Jump out of the bus and catch another or was I going to call off the appointment. But my appointment was "money-line." I found compromising a money deal next to impossible, I decided to do a critical analysis of the bus that had failed my money deals.

It's windows and windshield had designer cracks; the cushions on the seats were very dirty. Along the way, the bus, discharged balls of smelly smog that left many coughing, and others struggling for fresh air.

At 100kms from Kampala, the bus 'caught fire' once again. We quickly jumped out and watched the thick smoke pumping out of its exhaust pipe. So toxic, it tore at my lungs; children coughed, a woman filled a black kaveera with vomit while many more were left very worried.

People demanded their fare back so they could find other means of transport for the remaining part of the journey. I inched closer and asked the conductor what was amiss but the look he gave me warned me to keep my distance.

By this time, tongues were wagging. "I've never seen this before," said one woman. "These people are joking with our lives," a heavy woman said while a potbellied mister threw a tantrum: "I demand an apology once we get to Kampala. How can they not even have a tool box on such a ramshackle bus?"

After the problem was 'fixed,' the conductor invoked his persuasive skills to have us get back on board. A gentleman nearby asked a nun to pray for our journey and she fixed him a killer smile before we moved on.

If the bus had roasted us alive as it was feared; it would have been a case of people failing to help themselves. As I sat in the bus, I began to reflect on my Maker because it was getting late and the bus was continually breaking down.

To be honest, there are innumerable physically and soulfully aged and faulty vehicles swinging along our potholed roads. It is not even funny that most Ugandan car dealers have never been fond of brand new automobiles. They deal in used cars, which they refurbish and sell off at exorbitant profits. Few months on the road and the tired things with their leaky engines and exhaust pipes continue to wreck havoc.

The fumes they emit contain fatal organic compounds like carbonmonoxide, which scientists have since established, accelerates death in the form of asthma and heart ailments. So then, are these vehicles licensed to kill? Is there any authority doing something about the means of transport on Ugandan roads?

One may argue oh yes Al-haji Nasser Ntege Sebaggala is doing something. But his buses have failed to start operating. And even though they do, I doubt they will ever grace the Mbarara route. Whatever!

But these old, ramshackle buses should be kicked into a crap hole where they belong. We do not want them like this 'Traveller's Choice' bus.

Published in Sunday Monitor, September 10, 2006.