The matatue is full, very full, too full

The matatue is full, very full, too full

Finally, the matatue (mini bus) is full. I am squeezed against the window and friend A. is squeezed against me. Besides her is a big man and on the other side is a tiny lady squeezed against the other window. In front of me sits a woman with three children, two on her lap and the third and smallest on top of that. Next to her is an old man with a chicken, he smiles and gives everyone a sticky sweet. A small boy is seated next to him on a broken seat. The first row is filled with three women who, seen the clothes they are wearing, are attending a wedding in one of the villages. They are dressed in colourful gomesi, a dress with a sash tied around the waist and large exaggerated shoulders. They are chatting non-stop. The conductor is squeezed beside them and almost sits on top of one, not that any of the two cares. The driver sits in front with two gentleman sitting next to him wearing a kanzu.

Filling it up

Even though the matatue seems quite full the driver stops here and there to squeeze more people in the matatue. Besides people chickens, ducks, pineapples and sacks of rice are pushed inside or given to each traveller to hold on to. The matatue has about twelve seats but I have never seen a matatue drive with only twelve people. The conductor looks over his shoulder, his eyes meet mine. He smiles, I sweat. “It’s okay” he says. I wonder what is, that I’m sweating the 75% of the water my body holds? Or that I’m not smiling back? Or that I’m feeling so hot I can faint? Or that this matatue can hold even more people? We are now with eighteen in the matatue. The conductor is feeling great because he knocks on the matatue again. “Ogenda wa?” he shouts at the people. “Luwero” they answer. “Jangu wano” he says while hitting the matatue on top, this time he hits the bus two times. Meaning more people will come with us.

Luwero road

Skinny women, who likes that?

When they see the white sweaty a bit irritated faces of me and friend A. they start laughing. “Laba that muzungu”. Everyone in the matatue looks at us and everyone starts laughing. The man with the chicken gives me a napkin “for your face” he says politely. Then he turns to my friend and gives her a sweet. “You look well fed but a sweet will do you good” he gives my friend a sweet while she looks at me. Is that a compliment? Women in Europe would immediately start fasting. “Skinny women, I don’t like them, I have nothing to grasp, to hold, to hug” he says to me while giving my friend a wink. The ladies in front turn around “don’t you tease those muzungu’s you old man” one of them says. Suddenly the whole matatue is in discussion with each other. It goes too fast to follow. The national language might be English but the most widely spoken language is Luganda, in this part of Uganda that is. Uganda consists of about 60 kingdoms with each another language. Buganda is the biggest tribe and their language is Luganda.

Luwero road

The road stops

In the meantime we are all squeezed together. I got a child on my lap and friend A. a bag and a duck on top of that. Twenty people are now inside the matatue. Eight more than is allowed by the government, therefore the conductor asks everyone on the road whether there are any controls or other road blocks ahead. This results in a very annoying ride, we drive fast than we stop to ask people, again the driver turns the speed up and again stops. In front of us the road is under construction. The UN is trying to fix the road from Kampala to Masindi but they are only half way, which means the road stops. It just stops. The road ahead is a mix of gravel, huge stones which we are unable to drive over, holes, sand and mud. 

Matatue stop in Kampala

“Close your window” all the occupants shout at me. I close the window immediately. We drive slowly, if we weren’t packed and squeezed against each other we would be shakenlike a smoothie. The heath becomes unbearable, the smell makes me sick, the air is so thick my nose feels like it’s full with dirt, and it probably is. Friend A. sits a bit uncomfortable with the duck on her lap. The duck is bound on his feet and beak. He sits very still, lifeless, like he accepted his death and is content with it. “The poor duck” she tells me. The child on my lap looks at me with big eyes. She is a bit scared of me, of my colour, but she is fascinated with my hair and starts touching it. She has braids on her head with wonderful coloured beads, pink, white, green, orange. She has beautiful big brown eyes, a tiny nose and an earring in each ear. She wears the clothes of her bigger sister, they don’t really fit. I roll up her sleeve so she can touch my hair properly.

And more people enter the matatue

“Banange” I shout while the conductor is pushing two more people inside. Twenty two people are now inside the twelve seater. Everyone starts laughing and shouting hysterically. “Hear that muzungu!” The old man smiles at me “everything is possible in Uganda”. I understand the full meaning of that sentence right now. Luckily for me and friend A. the end is near. We are at the back of the matatue. Most of the people get out for us, the little girl cries when she is not able to hold my hair anymore. I hit my head while getting out, everyone is giving us a handshake and wishes us well. I’m happy I can breathe again, but our adventure is not over yet.

The adventure continues soon…


Now I’m curious, what is the most memorable experience you had while using local transportation abroad?
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1 Comment on "The trip to northern Uganda"

  1. Uganda – through the lens – Route22
    27 August 2015 Reply

    […] read some of my adventures there. For example the one on the bike? or in the matatue? Maybe the one going up north? or into the middle of nowhere? Many adventures in so little time. Two years later I’m still […]

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