Another post about transportation, you say?
Of course, I say, as last week I got my first matatu experience in Uganda.
Now, matatus are little mini vans, with 4 rows of seats for 3 people each a driver and a passenger in the front – i.e. they are licensed to take 14 people.
As readers of this blog will know, this theory rarely holds up and the last time I was confronted with a ridiculously overcrowded matatu situation, I got a car.
But there were only 18 people in this matatu.
In the matatu I got in last week, there were four people in each row a conductor and two people plus the driver at the front making it a total of 20 full people. Then there were 3 children on laps too. And my colleague informed me that hopefully we would leave because the matatu full yet. They only leave when they are full and apparently Ugandan matatus take the word “full” very seriously.
Oh and additionally to the people, there were also large bags of cabbages stacked behind me (as I was in the last row). When I say behind I mean they pushed our seat forward to stack the cabbages and so I had a couple under my feet and on my lap and had to sit myself diagonally sideways to fit.
Thankfully, post-cabbage inclusion, the driver and the conductor decided that we were now “full” and so we, i.e. 18 full passengers, 3 children, 1 driver, 1 conductor and numerous cabbages, hit the road, stopping at a petrol station first.
And we got exactly 3km out of town when the matatu sputtered and stopped in the middle of the road. Therefore, 18 full passengers, 3 children, 1 driver, 1 conductor stepped out of the matatu and the numerous cabbages were unloaded to the side of the road. Apparently we had refueled with diesel instead of petrol meaning that this matatu was not going anywhere anytime soon.
My colleague and I were standing at the side of the road contemplating our next move. My colleague said that it was ok, we would just hail one of the matatus on its way. I pointed out to him that if the matatus only leave when they are “full” how were going to find space in one that had just started out of town?
In the next two minutes a matatu pulled up and took me, my colleague and 3 other full passengers from our stranded matutu.
Now we were 4 rows of 5 people with 3 people sitting in the front with the driver. (Remind me never to complain about a matatu with 18 people again).
As I was sufficiently squished and half way on the lap of the old man next to me I looked to the door and saw that the conductor had not entered the matatu yet. I began to wonder where on earth he was going to find space in the matatu.
On my lap of course. Was that not obvious?
Yes dear readers, “full” really is only a relative term.