September 4, 2010

Iganga Town (en route to Jinja), Ugnada

Mutatus are exercises in patience, tolerance, and humor. Every president, general, and potential saint should have to ride in one for at least a three-hour journey.

The mutatu, a minivan divided into four rows of seats that could comfortably (if you ignore your knees) seat three in each row, but usually seats at least four. When children are involved seven isn’t unheard of.

A conductor who takes money and directs the starts and stops of the mutate, sits in the first row of seats; that doesn’t mean there is one less passenger in that row, just that much less space. when the mutatu is full (a relative term), the conductor moves to the second row and leans/sits in the lap of the person on the end of that row, or bends over – butt  in the face of someone in the second row, head squeezed into the first all the while still calling for new passengers and fussing with current ones.

Today’s trip to jinja (a mere 45 minute ride if you get the luxury of just riding, something I’m finding is rare) we stopped incessantly even when we were seemingly full. There were four adults (including the conductor) in the first row along with three children. At one point a little boy of about 8 clutched the metal rails separating the driver’s seat from the four rows in the back of the van, his legs swung unceremoniously toward the driver’s area but not quite entering. His head tilted awkwardly to avoid bumping against the ceiling.

He rode, expressionless and uncomplaining until we stopped…again…and passed another parcel of passengers. Finally we reached the magical fare to destination ratio and he was allowed a new perch, slightly less precarious. This one left him crouched on the metal van frame jutting slightly out from beneath the driver’s area. Here, he crowded the feet of the first row passengers, but he remained silent, his flawless skin – truly like the polished ebony figurine I saw in Zambia years ago – reflecting the last rays of the sun as it descended.

Some trips are uneventful, the taxi comfortably full, everyone going to the same destination. But in my short time here, I find those rides infrequent, almost mythical. Instead, most are marred with numerous stops; contorted bodies rewarding squished passengers with back pain; surly conductors arguing mysteriously (since I can’t understand Lusoga); aromatic passengers that cut off window breezes an inch at a time; and speeds that, while fast enough to warrant fear of oncoming traffic and bodas (motorcycles) darting dangerously in drivers’ peripheral vision, still manage a slowness that makes a 42 km ride 45 minutes long on a good day.

Of course for less than a dollar…

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1 Comment on mutatu madness

  1. Linda O'Dell says:

    Hey Linnea, sorry for your discomfort but I really enjoyed your description of the ride, quite funny! Sorry for my insensitivity but I love your subdued humor. LOL

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