The last thing on my mind was that I will lose my phone within an hour of my arrival.
My nine-month-old phone was still in such a rude-healthy shape. It had sustained its charge since 9.15 p.m. the previous night when I had last charged it. It was now 1.50 p.m. the next day as I tried to hail a boda-boda in downtown Kampala to Munyonyo, south-east of the Modern Coast Bus Station. It was at 25 percent, enough to last me another three or four hours.
The previous day, I had loaded enough e-books to last me a fortnight in Kampala. I had several opened but unread links, that ironically, I had seen someone on Twitter say, “if you have not read that saved link on your phone after two weeks, forget about it.” I had about 63 unread links, several books on my Aldiko reading app (among many others), several documents, photos, and so many secrets because I had gotten to that comfort zone that I will never lose the phone.
In Nairobi, I walk in the streets alert like a fly on your arm that knows it is about to be swatted. I avoid walking at night and every day in a matatu, I pray that thugs will not hijack our bus. I can smell those hoodlums who board matatus on Ngong Road or Mombasa with malign intent to rob from passengers employing a spate of disruptive stupidity like wanting to vomit on you and scaring the hell out of you, all the while cutting your handbag, or planting their filthy fingers in your pocket.
My phone had survived Nairobi, a presumably dangerous city compared to Kampala, so I could not envision that I will lose my phone in the least violent fashion in the city.
After 15 hours on the road, I arrived in Kampala to a hot and humid afternoon, temperature: 30 degrees. In Nairobi, it rarely crosses the 26-28 barrier. It is sweltering hot, and the long-sleeved polo Tshirt I am donning is choking me. I take it off, remaining with a sweat undershirt and what a relief. I call my buddy Obed to inform him that I have arrived.
Since the journey had taken an extra two hours (my expected time of arrival was 11 a.m.) he was due to a meeting, and he anxiously tells me, hail a boda boda. Give him your phone I talk to him.
I walk out of the crowded bus terminal, as young touts jostle for me, asking if I am going to Kigali. Never mind that Museveni and Kagame are currently in a pissing march and the border is closed.
Outside the terminus, I see some boda-boda guy, but he looks rather dirty and uninspiring to me. I approach the next one who tells me that he will need UGX 10,000 (KES 300) to where he is to drop me. My friend tells me that is on the higher side, I try and move out of the terminal, further up the road, I try and stop a boda on the move.
I do exactly that. The first guy outside the terminus says UGX10,000 and has no time for bargaining. The second guy comes and says, he can take USh 8,000 (KES 230), which my buddy says is still on the higher side. Just about then, this young short man donning a helmet, like a true rider comes and stands behind the older man who has refused to come down. He has overheard the haggling, and had rounded us up, ready to pounce, should the older boda ride decline my offer.
“Make it at least 6,000,” he says. I am now tired, and I hate bargaining, I can pay anything to get to a place I can take a shower and eat something because I am dying. The last meal I had was the previous day at 5 p.m. I ask my buddy if it is OK, and he says, “it is still high, but just come, I have to be at some place…”
I give the boda guy the phone to talk to him and they agree. I notice that he places the phone inside his helmet, as opposed to taking off the helmet in order to talk. Whatever flies his plane.
So, I climb the boda and off we go. Navigating the Kampalan streets, clogged with boda boda and the vehicular madness is something riders have masters. Your heart will skip severally. At roundabouts and intersections. The riders are just special. There is a way, they zoom in and out danger, and you will escape death by a whisker, severally. The guy was good. Experienced, yes. A bit rough, but you can’t expect a perfect ride.
Last I was in Kampala was in 2012. My memory of Gaba Road, though rusty, I could pick out a few places, from back in the day. Mid-way, the guy stopped to fuel. When we reached near the place where my friend stays, I remembered the place, but could not pick out his house. I was trying to remember the exact house as the rider sped through. I didn’t object. Deep within, I assumed that he had received the instructions well, and knew better.
So, we carried on further and I was at a point I was about to object when he pulled by the wayside, of a seemingly deserted but posh area, with a magnificent, palace-like structure across the road. No traffic. There I was thinking, that maybe he is lost and it was time to call my buddy. He had been a good guy, and I was thinking all along that I will tip him. He looked so innocent, so harmless.
Since I am heavy, I couldn't stay on top of the boda. And since I am wearing jeans, I have to get down to fetch the phone from my pocket. So, I step, down with my backpack. Fish out the phone and dial my buddy. The line is busy. I am beginning to sympathise with the rider as we are wasting his time, yet the pay was so little.
Two minutes later, the phone goes through and I give him, the phone, he picks and start to tell him that we are the place my buddy had ordered to call from. He nodded, and then...
I didn’t notice what was going on, but I blinked, and I saw the guy speeding, top speed down the road, and there that sinking feeling that it is gone. After the 10 seconds of horror, I look around and there is a man in Toyota Vitz, I go rush to him and in pain, I tell him,
“That guy has gone with my phone,” I tell him, totally hysterical.
Bewildered, he asks me, “How?”
“I gave it to him to pick instructions on where to drop and he just sped off, could you help me, chase after him?”
He gave a look that told me, I am so stupid to lose a phone that way. He pointed to some bag on the dashboard and told me that he is dropping them somewhere and does not even have fuel. He was just an arsehole.
The boda bodas speeding down the road are all carrying people. Then one came that was not carrying a passenger. He agreed that we try to chase, but it is so futile, that after some 200 metres, we end up at the lake and no hope of knowing where the negro has gone.
I ask him to take to a place I can find a cyber, or wifi…
He drives me to a shop that sells pirated movies. There, I narrate my ordeal. The young man there says he is from Kenya. His dad is Kisii. I notify him that I am Kisii. They set up their wifi for me. It takes a while. While there, I am frenetic. They keep asking me to recant the details. Then, there is this tall girl, probably Ugandan, but with a fair grasp Swahili who goes defensive. I had not tried to call every boda ride in Kampala a thief, but she starts,
“Isn’t Nairobi even worse…Eeeh, Nairobi ni mbaya…”
“In Nairobi, no such a thing, they mostly use a gun…” I tell her bullshitting her that Nairobian thugs are more badass than Kampala thugs…
Then this beautiful girl, probably 19, comes in, and is ushered to sit at the computer by the hankish dude, you know the movie guys who can slice you your girlfriend...The girl is pure Ugandan beauty, young and nubile and I sat there wondering how even in moments of despair, there is still beauty all around us.
By the time, the internet comes on, I try to log onto Facebook and Twitter, it fails to log. But luckily it accepted the mail. I tried my luck with Google hangouts, and my buddy has not used the feature in a million years. I write him a mail, as I drop the missus too and a couple of friends. The missus wonders what rotten luck I suffer from.
By some brainwave, it hits me that my buddy may never receive the mail on time, and I opt to check our previous correspondence, to see if he signs off with a number and being a developer, yes, he does. We call the number and it goes through.
Immediately I know, without a smartphone I can’t last more than 24 hours Kampala. So no chance to check out their last tourist attractions: curvy women…