A DAY WITH… Tahia Nakabuye, 22, is a taxi tout on the Jinja Stage in the Old Taxi Park in downtown Kampala. CHRISTINE KATENDE finds out how she plies her trade.
In the dusty and downtown bustle that is the Old Taxi Park, a light skinned, jolly young woman goes about tapping passengers’ shoulders, carries their luggage and makes them feel comfortable. But, you will not hear a word from her. At first, I think she only means business until I get closer and speak to her but she does not respond. One of the passengers says, from the back of the taxi, “oyo kasiru” (she is deaf and dumb). Tahia Nakabuye is a taxi tout at Jinja Stage in the Old Taxi Park.
The day I meet her, I arrive at about 10.45am. Musa Kiweewa, a stage manager, says Nakabuye has loaded about three taxis that morning. We walk in her direction.
Clad in a blue cap, red T-shirt and black corduroys, Nakabuye smiles and gives me a firm handshake.
Her leather flat and closed shoes with ankle socks seem to make her movement swift.
“Christine is here to record your story. She wants to know how you do your work,” Kiweewa says. She smiles and nods.
“Continue with your work, do not mind me,” I write on a piece of paper for Nakabuye.
She immediately identifies a prospective passenger who is carrying a box. She runs to him, lifts the box and swiftly leads him to the taxi. She places it in the boot and points at the taxi interior. She dashes off again to find another passenger. As passengers board, Nakabuye loads luggage in the taxi boot.
At the male-dominated job Nakabuye is testament that a woman can compete well. Also, she does well among the able-bodied.
She smiles often and gestures after which she exchanges a high-five with her male colleagues as they break into wild laughter. She keeps her eye on the money too. Whenever she finishes loading, the taxi driver or conductor has to pay her.
The pay varies and depends on the weight of the luggage and how she negotiates with the taxi operator. For example, if a passenger and the conductor agrees to Shs7,000 for the luggage, Nakabuye expects to at least get Shs3,000. She earns between Shs5,000 and Shs6,000 per load.
The day I pay her a visit, the first round, Nakabuye earns Shs3,000.
She then moves around the taxi park, although not far away from her duty station, in search of passengers heading to Jinja. She points at the mobile signpost inscribed on ‘Jinja’ when directing travellers to the taxis.
From her interaction with Kiweeewa, I have mastered the gestures which imply, “Are you fine?”
The 22-year- old barely spends five minutes without checking on me. “Are you fine? Why don’t you take shelter from the heat in one of these taxis,” she gestures.
The hotter it gets, the more enthusiastic Nakabuye becomes to find clients. The more passengers she directs and luggage she loads, the more the money she earns.
All is not hard work and pay for Nakabuye. At one point, a man approaches her and he wants his parcel delivered to Jinja. She walks him to the taxi driver. After they have sealed the deal for courier services, the driver walks away and does not give Nakabuye her commission. She reports him but the man still dodges her. The angry tout goes to the taxi, removes the key and pockets it swearing not to return it until the driver pays her. The driver does the needful and she returns the key.During her interaction, she jokes a lot but cannot tell when someone has insulted her.
At around 12.30pm, Nakabuye does not pause her work to have lunch like most of her colleagues. All she buys is a 300ml- bottle of soda and reaches for a skewer of roasted meat. She chews pensively and sips on her bottle, then she adjusts her cap to keep the sun rays at bay.
When passengers reduce, she seeks refuge in one of the empty taxis. She disappears from my sight and I imagine she is off to get a drink but I am wrong. Nakabuye has spotted a passenger. Kiweewa says no matter how light or heavy the luggage is, she will carry it to eke a living.
Despite the scorching sun, the dust and commotion she carries on. And by 3pm, she has about Shs16,000. She explains that she fends for her two children’s school fees.
“Men who are after sex, not my love and commitment are crooks,” she says and vows to stick to making money.
According to her sister, Sophia Nakiguli, a conductor at Kawempe-Tuula stage, the hardworking Nakabuye hit the taxi park at 19 years. She has operated from Jinja stage for a year now. They were raised by a single mother and did not earn enlightenment, according to Nakiguli.
Apart from taking care of herself, a certain percentage is deducted from her income. This money is for taking care of her children.
On a good day, Na
kabuye makes up to Shs20,000 and on a bad day Shs10,000. Kiweewa reveals that when Nakabuye gets to town or point of duty she eats her breakfast- Irish potatoes, greens and avocado accompanied with a mug of African tea.
Not all is rosy
Although she is easy to work with, not all the people she works with correctly communicate or understand her. She, however, never stops running to Kiweewa for help, especially when someone annoys her.
Nakabuye was trusted with banking their operations stage money. “Nakabuye is not double-faced and does whatever is asked of her,” Kiweewa says.
Time check: 4.30pm our interaction has come to an end. But before setting off, Nakabuye hugs me and shakes my hand firmly with a wide smile. Kiweewa translates, that Nakabuye wants me to return and spend another day with her.
Tahia is my young sister who was born deaf and dumb. I cannot remember when she was born but she could be about 23 years old. Tahia’s father died before she was born but even after, her family disassociated from her because of her impairment. Our mother worked single-handedly as a food vendor in the Old Taxi park but she could not afford to raise Shs75,000 for Tahia’s school fees at the special needs school. Occasionally, we would help her serve the food.
After realising that Tahia could not talk or hear, we had to learn her gestures in context. On several occasions, we tied a small string on her leg like when she remained alone at home. On return, we would pull the string to wake her up to open for us.
I have taken an initiative to learn sign language from the person who interprets news on TV.
She is a child that would never be beaten or shouted at. I remember the day our mother punished her, she became unruly, broke almost everything in the house. Since then, we learnt to be lenient and patient with her.
However, mother trained her in house chores and after some time, we introduced her to mother’s business at about 18 years though she could not do much. She tried serving but people found difficulty dealing with her communication.
That’s when we connected her to one of the drivers in the park at Mulago stage. This man employed her as a conductor and business was normal according to her boss. I don’t know how she did it but she managed. She ceased being a conductor when the driver lost the taxi to highway robbers.
After a year of unemployment, Tahia found a job on the Jinja stage and she has worked with them for a year. The only challenge she always shares with me after work is being exhausted but she never reveals how much she earns on a particular day in fear that I will ask her for money towards her child’s welfare.
Tahia’s three-year-old child is with her family but the first born, is in my care. We do not know who her real father is and the person we suspect (a taxi driver in the old taxi park) has refused to go for a DNA test.
However, about the school fees, I talked to the Jinja stage managers who help me get a certain percentage from her daily earning which I top up to pay for the child’s school fees of Shs170,000 per term.
My sister is hardworking but snappy, you never want to provoke her. I asked her to come to my home because I never wanted to see her roam the streets.
I live with Tahia but she is responsible for her day-to-day needs such as food and other necessities except when she is ill. We pushed to have her on birth control after realising that no man takes responsibility whenever she conceives. About love matters, Tahia is careful with men and can never mess up again. At home, she helps with fetching water, among other house chores. Given chance and support, she can run a retail shop.
Sophia Nakiguli, Nakabuye’s elder sister