Friday night I arrived at Entebbe Airport mentally prepared to crawl through the traffic to make it for a very important personal dinner with family.
Within minutes of arriving at the long-term parking office a sense of foreboding began to come over me as the two chaps there searched high and low with that puzzled look on their faces of “Oba what…?”<—said properly, this is the classical Ugandan version of WTF.
They couldn’t find a ticket with my name on it, and eventually I dug through my luggage to find my own copy, which revealed where the problem was.
The fellow who I had handed my car to the morning I arrived there, a man called Male, had registered the ticket in his own names rather than mine! This, in spite of the fact that I had handed him my driving permit and patiently allowed him to hold on to it for as long as he wanted, doing the registration.
No problem, I said, and paid up then got sent on my way.
I walked all the way to the farthest corner of the parking lot with my luggage, only to find a Mercedes Benz parked right behind me. I hooted a little bit then realised I had to walk all the way back to the Administrator’s cubicle.
I did so while wondering why the hell the chaps hadn’t alerted me to the possibility that I would be blocked and feeling quite sure that since there were only two cars of my make in the entire parking lot they should surely have known.
My irritated musings were interrupted when I encountered my pal Richard fretting because his remote key fob wouldn’t work, and neither would his Prado key.
He had left the car with the chaps and agreed that they would park it, so he was very unsure what could have possibly happened. We tried a couple of tricks with the remote key and the ordinary key, attacking all doors and pressing buttons while pointing at all parts of the vehicle but nothing worked.
We eventually sent for some dry cells to slot into his remote key, with the askari who had said with heavy confidence as he pointed at the airport terminal building in the distance: “The batteries are sold in the airport, there!”
As we waited for him to return, the Mercedes Benz blocking me was moved but by now, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to make it to the dinner, so I tried to order for a drink for us as we waited.
“You have go to the restaurant,” I was told.
The small ensuing discussion about how good an idea it would be to have a few soft drinks sold at the parking lot was interrupted by the return of the confident askari, with the cocksure update that even if the cells weren’t actually available at the airport, he could get them from somewhere else nearby.
We waited afresh, and secured phone numbers to summon mechanics to bring solutions and the restaurant operator to deliver drinks to us in the parking lot. The latter arrived within minutes, while the former eventually confessed, hours later, that it was raining and they couldn’t make it over.
Without explaining the walking pace of the askari, as we waited for him to get to where he was going, let alone return, we convinced the fellows there to open up some other key fobs available so we could test with their batteries, and in the process one of the chaps licked the dry cells to confirm that they were indeed functional.
Based on the saliva action, we all agreed that the problem must be the car battery. I remembered that some time in my distant past we often conducted this lick-the-dry-cell test and even then I wasn’t sure about it (but now you can google it).
We started a fresh discussion about how wise it would be for the parking lot management to open up a shop selling car accessories like batteries for remote control keys or fobs, air freshener kits, insect traps, and so on and so forth. The fellows kept saying how “The problem is” and explaining why it wouldn’t work, so we just left the ideas there amidst the cars.
Then, while discussing how the car battery could have run out, Richard reminded the fellows that he had left the car with them to park – most probably with the gentleman called Male, since we left on the same morning.
At one point, an attendant said, “Remember that car that refused to start when you had arrived here?”
Richard affirmed the memory, and even recounted that he had been assured that his Prado would be parked in the spot of the failed car when it was eventually moved.
We talked through the various scenarios, my irritation rising every minute, and the askari returned unsuccessful to join us in discussions as we waited for mechanics to respond to our phone summons.
Eventually, though, we found a taxi driver who had exceptional car opening skills, got the bonnet open, and charged the battery up.
Immediately, the interior lights of the car came on – which explained why the battery had run out. The lights had probably been on the whole damn week, draining the battery.
And that’s when I really felt like being a little violent. What kind of car parking attendants are these who aren’t proficient enough to tell that you have to switch off the interior lights? How often do they (not) patrol the parking lot in order not to have noticed the lights were on? Why were they incapable of managing parking so we don’t get blocked in?
But before I could erupt in angry commentary, the askari declared with quite some triumph in his voice:
“Yeah! I knew it! Don’t you remember that guy you found here that morning, whose car had also failed to start? It was the same problem…!”