Taxi Ride by Dan O'reilly

June 29, 2010:

It was if being in a clown car with 10 other Ugandans was not enough of a challenge. Sandwiched between and the driver, my right leg pinched between the gear shift and the driver’s hand, my right upper appendage crossed holding for dear life to the plastic handle. A horn blowing into the African air beckoning for more passengers--if there was still room in the taxi to breathe, there was room for another customer. Cars swerving in and out of traffic, avoiding gas tankers, vehicles traveling too slow for the crazed taxi, pot holes, boda boda drivers, human beings...

As I walked down the path from COWESER, Uncle, Mister, etc. Dick taught me the word goodbye, Weeraba. I practiced several times aloud, followed by whispered and then again several times in my head. Weeraba, weeraba... weeraba. I challenged myself not to forget this word, although the only word I had no problem memorizing was tugende, “we go.” As you may suspect, it has not gotten me too far.

We stopped at the road ahead. Mr. Dick wished a good day to the lady standing five feet away. Poor Uncle Dick, in his late 30s he stilled lived with his mother and had no prospects for a wife. Although we reveled together about the freedom of the single life with no concern of others, the conversation between us ended in a sigh--the type of sigh indicating we did not believe a word we just spoke about. Around women, Uncle Dick gave off quite the scent. The I am desperate pheromonal spray unavoidable by any culture or sex.

“Drivers are so wreckless.” I tuned Mr. Dick back in. I decide to contribute, “I hear it is the leading cause of death in...” Uganda tailed off as a white box-on-wheels approach Dick, myself and sprinting woman on the street. Mr. Dick slings his body around, looks me square in the eye stating, “You shall sit in the front.” I stared at the taxi. I glanced at the seemingly occupied front seat. I turn back at Dick with a concerned half smile on my face. Do I really have to get on this thing? Pretty much the exact same look a small girl wearing a pink tutu makes as she rotates her torso back to mom, Do I really have to grow up now?...Response: “It’ll be alright. I will be back this afternoon to pick you up. Go have fun at school--make friends.” Make friends. Parents always equated friend making with molding a snowman out of a ball of clay at snack time, as if it was ever that easy. Dick just shooed me off and bid me farewell, “Weeraba!”

I equate driving in this country to being on an unrestrictive, unpredictable roller coaster. When riding on a roller coaster you can almost prepare your body for the twists and turns it will encounter, countering any potential force you may feel. For example, by moving your body slightly to the left as the roller coaster turns right to combat the changing circulating acceleration. Additionally you have straps across your lap, perhaps even bars over your shoulders, uncomfortably gluing you to the plastic seat.

Honk-shift-flash, a ritualistic mating call between taxi and potential customer--a classic romantic comedy. A man walks up to a woman in a bar in the very least saying, “hello;” or, throws out some embarrassing line to catch the potential of his mate. Embarrassing to the unfortunate souls sitting around the couple having to listen to the banter. After his one-liner, he moves closer to the woman, a sense of intimacy, a test to see if she takes his bait. If it works, he follows up with some sort of joke to seal the deal perhaps knocking on some chump at the bar trying to do the same as him or some fashion faux pa three seats down, taking pleasures in others’ pain--shaudefreude at it’s finest.

Honk. The driver blows his horn at every potential customer (a three year old shirtless child is not to be discriminated against). Shift. He guides his vehicle towards the side of the road. Flash. He clicks his beams on and off. The customer walks up to the side of the vehicle, discusses fare and destination. If a match, the door opens and the customer finds room in the vehicle--on a lap, on the floor, with the driver--she will squeeze herself in and the clown car clunks onward.

It is approximately 40 kilometers traveling from Kinoni to Masaka. 40 kilometers traveling on dirt road in a rickety metal clunker, clanking with each rotational tire spin. I attempt to see how long I could hold my breath. I developed, practiced and mastered this game as a young child. Often having to accompany my mother to various consignment shops and thrift stores, I also encountered the most particular scents. By particular, I mean scents that stung your nose hairs and caused the most disturbing visceral reaction. The type that made you rethink if the leftover onion, mushroom and anchovy pizza was a good choice of lunch. As Darwin would have it, I adapted to the situation. Trying to stay home evoked loss of dessert. A temper tantrum resulted in public humiliation, a week’s worth of dessert and a smack to the back of the head. These two options would not suffice, holding your breath became the premier option.

The taxi ride became long and keeping my breath, arduous. Between passenger exchanges I would drop off carbon dioxide and pick up oxygen. Each breath in carried in a thick scent of body odor, fruity perfume and clothing detergent...

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