a random weekend episode with a wheel spanner in Hoima


Wheel Nut

IF you’re having a mildly bad time on any given day, call my Dad to give you a recount of any ordinary episode in his life upcountry.

Like his Saturday a couple of weekends ago, in Hoima, when he set off for an extremely important family event (we should all have been there but life being what it is, we were not) and had ordered life to ensure respectability all through.

The event was slated to begin at 1000hrs so he was in Hoima town by 0930hrs, but stopped to top up his fuel tank at the biggest fuel station there – a prudent move because the truck he was driving had been in a garage for many months and this was its maiden trip on discharge. As such, a few things were not working fine, including the fuel gauge.

Being a strict Accountant, and even more old school than myself, he kept count of the litres therein and calculated the mileage (not kilometres) mentally all the way but tended to avoid taking unnecessary risks.

As the fueling process came to an end, a fellow nearby pointed out that a tyre needed changing.

He was right.

Changing a tyre, for a man of my father’s age, experience, and intelligence, would take just a few minutes. He taught me how to do this at an early age, hence my predilection for Land Rovers over snazzy, shiny cars, even though there are Landys that fit that bill.

“Fair enough,” said the old man, suspecting correctly that the months of garage admission had probably stripped the car of essential tools.

Confirming that the unauthorised property allocation had taken place, he asked the garage fellows to oblige.

They readily agreed and shortly thereafter another fellow approached the car with the attitude of someone providing the relevant tools.

In one hand he held a car jack, the type that we used to have many years ago and still exists quite obviously in many places here. In the other hand – nothing.

“Good,” said the old man, even throwing in a “Thank you” with a wry smile while asking for the rest of the kit.

“We don’t have other things,” they said.

At this point, we can only imagine the looks being exchanged in silence all round thereafter.

I have no idea what the fellows at the fuel station look like so I can’t work out how sheepish they appeared but I know full well what my father’s facial expression was right there and then – running from irritation through incredulous and to that one where he was straining not to slap someone.

Surely, at a fuel station such as this in the major town of an oil-producing region in a country on the brink of middle-income status, this couldn’t be happening in 2018?!

It was.

Not all was lost, however; as one shamefaced fellow suggested that the old man go over to another fuel station within the town that might likely have the requisite tools.

Time check: 1000hrs.

He was late for his event.

Either way, at this point he needed to actually fix this tyre situation otherwise he would be doing this all over again in the evening at an even more remote point.

He drove over at a respectable speed and presented his problem to a fresh set of fellows at the second fuel station. They understood it well.

One fellow shuttled off and returned a couple of minutes later with a wheel spanner.

The old man took it up happily and reached out for the other pieces of the puzzle. He was not ready for the consistency of the second hand offering – nothing.

He asked where the rest of the tools required for this operation were.

“Haaa…” replied the fellow.

If you don’t know that ‘Haaa’, I’ll try to make it clear: This is where a guy says, “Ha” and keeps the “aaa” part going a bit longer while tilting his head a little bit and keeping his mouth open for a bit longer yet.

In English, it means: “I’m afraid I am speechless at your request and cannot express how screwed you are, at this point in time.”

My old man, holding up the wheel spanner, insisted on the full version. Because he is not aware of candid camera television, he had no false hopes that the comedy would end soon. And his age bracket cannot spontaneously shout out appropriate phrases like: “WTF?!?!”

The wretched fuel station fellow, nevertheless, explained that whereas they had the tool as presented, they were not in possession of a car jack to raise the motor vehicle and allow things to flow smoothly as they should.

On one side, a rather stern non-plussed look was aimed at the fellow wielding a wheel spanner. On the other side, the fellow sent back an innocent look of earnest bewilderment over the vehemence in the face of helpfulness.

A painful exchange ensued, kept barely civil by the 70 years’ experience of similarly frustrating comedy that my old man has accumulated.

Eventually, another chap with more authority showed up and said he had a solution but that it was available from a mechanic based elsewhere but quite close.

“How long will this take?” my old man asked, skeptically.

“He will be here soon…”

My old man protested the ‘soon’, but the chaps insisted it was genuine and that they believed the word to mean “in a short time to come”.

Unconvinced, the old man proposed that he take their tool over to the first fuel station where he was certain there was another piece that would provide a solution to the problem. They did not know the proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” or any variant of it involving an unidentified mechanic possibly being ‘nearby’ at an undisclosed location.

They counter-insisted that their unidentified mechanic friend at the undisclosed location ‘nearby’ would be there within the indeterminate period of time they defined as ‘soon’ and even offered the old man a seat.

“But how long is this ‘soon’?” he asked, weakening and losing that small but significant battle.

“Ten minutes,” they said, with that confidence that you normally recognise after about ten minutes to be basic bollocks. Basic bollocks designed to shut you up.

It worked.

He took his seat and, in that warm, slow-moving heat, he leaned back.

Big mistake. He woke up thirty five minutes later with a jolt – probably dreaming about tyre-changing tools in the after-life complaining about being separated so illogically.

The rest of the fuel station operations were running as normal in full swing, without the tool he required and any care for his problem and presence.

Aghast, he quickly tracked down the fellow with the wheel spanner he required, and the one who had promised an unidentified mechanic was on his way with a jack.

“Haaa…”

Patience was of paramount importance here.

“The man hasn’t come. It seems he doesn’t have one,” said the chaps, with confidence.

The old man’s temperature rose, not because of the climate around him.

“Enough!” he declared, “I am taking this spanner with me to the other fuel station. I will bring it back when I am done!”

Their ability to resist had been greatly diminished but they stated their reluctance for the record, from a safe distance, and waved him on.

He sped over to the first fuel station, and impressed them with his possession of the part they didn’t have but that was essential for use with the one that they DID possess.

Eager to be done with the entertainment, he supervised the work closely. Ten minutes in, they still hadn’t managed to make a single wheel nut budge.

My old man realised that the pneumatic wheel spanner at the City Tyres bay in Kampala had tightened the nuts so much so that the raw strength and enthusiasm of these particular Banyoro offered little hope.

But they were optimistic, as usual, and called upon their ancestral strength, ingenuity, and experience. You may know that the practice, in such cases, is for the person faced with tight nuts to take up a thick metallic pipe and introduce it into the equation for greater leverage.

They did so, making the wheel spanner set longer and allowing for the solution as follows: rather than using the arm and shoulder muscles to move the wheel nuts the men took to the task by jumping up and down onto the end of the pipe inserted into the wheel spanner.

Twice.

Then the wheel spanner snapped.
Snap

Into two pieces.

The fellow who had been hopping up and down onto the pipe fell to the ground, a short distance away from the piece that had broken off the wheel spanner, and just metres below my old man’s priceless look of disbelief. Nobody laughed.

“Haaaa,” said one fellow close by.

If you don’t know that ‘Haaaa’, I’ll try to make it clear: This one sounds much like ‘Haaa’ but with a slightly longer delivery and less of the head tilting.

In English it means: “This unexpected turn of events is quite unfortunate but I can’t be blamed for it on my own and, therefore, will not offer an apology right away. Nevertheless, suffice to note that we are, at this point in time, screwed.”

Time check: 1300hrs.

Attending the event had become a remote possibility by now. Plus, the tyre was actually flat.

The old man stopped communication with the fellows around him and gave the matter some thought. Five minutes away there was a shop that sold tools. These tools included a wheel spanner.

Fifteen minutes later he was back with a new wheel spanner and a resolve not to accept any further nonsense.

Thirty minutes after that he was handing over the new wheel spanner to the flummoxed fellows at the second fuel station, along with a lecture about their need to be more sensibly equipped to provide the services expected of them.

Time check: 1500hrs.

He got to the event thirty minutes later to find it hadn’t started on time either, by luck and providence. He was just in time for a most crucial part of the ceremony, and didn’t have to explain why he was so damn late.

One thing’s for sure: he will never drive into a fuel station again and assume ANYTHING will go as planned thereafter.

why are so many of us scared of technology yet it should make l


screwdriver
Photo from pngimg.com

Waiting for an Uber at my office the other day in frustration at how long the driver was taking to figure out the Uber technology, I was distracted by five fully grown men struggling to fit some office furniture onto the back of a medium-size pick up truck.

The first bit of furniture was brought down and placed immediately onto the centre of the truck bed. I thought the truck would leave there and then but the men went upstairs and returned with more – all of which found its way onto the bed, with adjustments.

At some point, they had to stop.

As they stood looking at a couple of obstinate pieces of furniture, I was distracted by my Uber driver who was on the phone and failing to read his map. The way Uber works that makes it revolutionary includes the use of technology. Unlike your usual special hire driver who needed to be given directions by way of fenne trees and other landmarks, the Uber driver has a smartphone and internet access.

Using that phone you connect with your driver, indicate on a map where you are and where you plan to go, and you even get an estimate of the cost of the trip. That map is so complete that it identifies some surprising land marks.

For weeks now, I have been using Uber or walking rather than drive a personal vehicle. The experience is very fitting for my harsh microeconomic circumstances, and it is healthier (when I walk). My only frustration with most Uber drivers, however, is their refusal to use the technology the way it should be used.

Like my driver at the time the five fully-grown men were being baffled by the size of their pick up truck bed and the quantity of furniture that needed to go onto it.

He was so confused that he thought the blue blinking dot on his map was an indicator of where I was, rather than where he was. So he kept going round in circles. I lost thirty minutes waiting for the fellow to finally figure out how the maps work, and was confounded at how we sometimes reject technology yet its right there for us to use.

That includes technology such as the screwdriver. If those five fully-grown furniture carrying fellows on the roadside at my office had applied a screwdriver onto five screws in total to some parts of that furniture they could have stacked it neatly on the truck bed. The entire moving process would have been cut short by at least fifteen minutes, as the furniture was the fabricated screw-on type.

I pointed this out to them, and saw the light of realisation blinking ‘On’. But they figured they had gone so far into the process that they struggled on. They lifted the biggest desk, turned it onto its back and placed the smaller bits on its underside. Things worked somehow, and they left.

Before my Uber guy had arrived. I blasted him quite a bit for the delay he was occasioning by not using his technology. He was a little bit worse than a few other chaps – and I have had many encounters with them over technology. Just the week before, after hearing another driver claim that his map wasn’t working, I grabbed his phone and activated the map with voice directions.

Being unaccustomed to the technology he kept turning to me for affirmation that the lady’s voice was not misleading him. I don’t know who hurt him in his earlier life but he must have had a bad experience around these technologies, which made my ride uncomfortable because I now had to spend the journey directing him over the voice on the smartphone app.

Having to direct the driver verbally erodes another benefit of my using Uber – the ability to get some extra work done in the back seat of the vehicle, or to catch up on some entertainment (TV programmes and podcasts). Which means that the Uber drivers’ refusal to use the technology properly loses me time doing more useful work.

That is what technology is for – simplifying things and freeing up resources to be more productive. In fact, as my Uber guy was getting lost I took the time to type out this article on my phone, and sent a few emails, while standing under the heat on the verandah being lightly entertained by the five fully-grown men lacking a screwdriver.

If those fellows had used a screwdriver, turning it ten revolutions each per screw, they could have saved enough time to do more work in their new offices and earn more money to invest in more technology.

They might even have had a screwdriver in the glove box of their truck, but without the mindset required to make use of it, it was useless. As @like_a_gem said, on Twitter, “Omutwe omunafu gukooya bigere.”

Day 1/7: cue laughter in court


I was going to let the events of earlier today go by with just the tweets shared from my court experience, but then a group of tweeps threw the #UGBloggers7Days challenge my way and the literadrenaline was let loose.

Since I’m deeply involved in the case I can’t speak about the facts surrounding it, but today I was in the witness stand of a courtroom for the first time in my life, thanks to a lawsuit brought against MTN Uganda andSMS Media Uganda by former Mayor and almost-Minister Al-hajji Nasser Ntege Sebaggala.

Briefly, Sebaggala claims that the two made a ringtone out of his speech and have raked in billions of Uganda shillings, infringing on a copyright that belongs to him.

Legalities aside, why are we NOT spending more time hanging around court rooms for our general entertainment?

The curtain-raiser was seeing this massive maroon Uganda Prisons bus sidle alongside me and try to squeeze into the queue entering the commercial court, the way Kampala drivers tend to do as if the cars are just an extension of their bellies.

After realising that the bus wouldn’t fit, the driver drove on a little bit and parked by the side of the road to let the following alight:

BadBrown

It took me a couple of seconds to understand what I was seeing, and by that time she was walking right past me and all I could snap was:

20141014_085022

#BadBlack, I tweeted.

“Maybe #BadBrown!” someone replied.

Everyone at the Commercial Court was a comedian, for some reason – even the askaris who exchanged looks, comments and giggles as she walked past. In fact, #BadB herself was joking with that blouse matching her skin complexion.

The bus driver had started it all, though, having driven an entire damn bus all the way from Luzira just to drop this one prisoner with her guard.

Inside our court room, the opportunities for laughter were countless – even before we saw the playback of Seeya’s famous video recording (find that here or here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmJ7AzBQB7c).

I doffed my hat off to the judge for not guffawing out loud as most other people did throughout the day, even though his face broke up more often than not.

At one point I mentioned that I had offered Sebaggala’s team refreshments when they came to SMS Media offices, to which his lawyer responded, “…you say you gave them groceries…”

“No, my Lord, refreshments. NOT groceries!” I quickly corrected the fellow, lest the court record indicated that I had attempted to bribe Seeya with some shopping items…

Then, at another point the same lawyer asked, at a very unnecessary (to me) point: “The content was the same but the codes were different. By different, what do you mean? What do you mean they were different?”

“Er…they were not the same.”

“They were different?”

“Yes.”

“What do you mean?”

I turned to the judge for help, but realised I could try one more time with, “They were not the same.”

He appeared to finally get it.

Drawing to the end of an entertaining cross-examination, the second lawyer said quite distinctly at one point, “You claim you got the recording and created an altercation which you call a CRBT…”

“I did not!”

“Yes, you did. You made an altercation out of the recording!”

“Surely not an altercation, my Lord!” I interjected, again.

The lawyer, however, was off on a tangent and not to be interrupted, so he went on for a bit while the rest of us tried to work out what chaos the ringtone had caused, besides this outburst…

“…an alteration, you mean?”

He smiled.

As did everybody else in the room – including Seeya himself.

Would that all court appearances were this amusing; or that I were being paid to attend them…

the daily dose, as served up by my man Bruno


Today’s helping came from my regular supplier, Bruno.

He has a humble soul to match the sharpness of his intelligence, and his comedic value far outweighs the irritation that accompanies it.

I don’t use him every day, but sometimes find myself ceding on-road vehicle management to him.

Part of his usefulness is in ensuring that vehicle parts are not popped off the vehicle while it is parked, and that valuables and other not-so-valuables do not disappear from the vehicle when my wife and I are absent.

As he dropped me at the Jubilee Insurance Centre on Parliamentary Avenue, I gave him the usual life-or-death reminder regarding my laptop: “Do not let it out of your sight. Do not leave it in the car. Do not let it get stolen.” twice in English, and twice in Luganda.

I pointed at the bag. I made him turn back to look at the bag. Then I made him look at me to see how serious I was, as usual, about this issue.

“Now go to the Parking Lot and please wait for me there. I will tell you when I am done with the meeting,” I said, and left after he had confirmed comprehension – which never really means much.

Two hours later, my meeting over and done with, I switched my phone on as I was walking out and saw an SMS indicating that Bruno had tried to call me not fifteen minutes earlier.

I felt a sense of dread come over me. The only reason he would be calling would be to tell me he had changed his location or to report an issue.

You would only understand the depth of my fear if you knew the full story of Bruno and his absolute inability to give or follow directions (which you might hear about later on). This shortfall makes it almost impossible to do anything with him if you are not physically in the same place.

But the next three minutes confirmed that he is improving.

I called him back praying that he had not been sent anywhere else or gotten lost between the front of the building and the Parking Lot.

“Bruno!”

“Yes, sir?”

“You tried to call me?”

“Yes, sir.”

Silence as I waited for him to tell me why he had tried to call me.

Silence as he waited for me to tell him (again) why I had called him.

“Yeah, Bruno. What is it? Why had you called?”

“Sir,” he said, “I had called to tell you madame sent me to fix the tyre.”

“Okay,” I replied, afraid that he was now probably in Entebbe or Mityana, trying to fix the tyre, “So where are you?”

*Here it is*

And he said: “Shell.”

Pause, at this point, and appreciate that where I was standing, on Parliamentary Avenue, smack in the centre of Kampala, being told that he was at ‘Shell’ was as descriptive as any other word in the english language at that point. Among words he could have said and been equally informative were: ‘Chicken’, ‘Biscuits’, ‘Bricks’, ‘Cement’…and even places such as, ’Take-away’, ‘Restaurant’, ‘Hotel’, and so on and so forth.

But I picked out the silver lining in my situation as I stood in the hot sun working out which ’Shell’ he was probably at and worked up the courage to pursue a line of questioning for more details:

You see, just a month ago, Bruno always answered the question, “Where are you?” with the precise and prompt response: “Here!”

I always planned that when I found myself down in the dumps I would call him up with this question so he lightens the mood.

He had improved from “Here” to, at least, saying the name of the place.

So, calculating that the nearest Shell to where we were was probably the one above Grand Imperial Hotel, I hurriedly started my climb uphill and continued my line of questioning, but first by ascertaining that my bag was still safe.

“Do you have my bag, Bruno? Are you watching it?”

He had been waiting for this question, I could tell from the glee with which he answered: “Yes, sir! I am having your bag with me!”

Great! I slowed my pace down a little bit at that news, which was a little lucky because then I asked him which Shell petrol station he was at exactly and he answered:

“This one.”

True, in fact, but very, very, very useless information
True, in fact, but very, very, very useless information

*I am not making this story up. You may wish to meet Bruno and spend a little time with him if you want to verify his general embeera (the way he be’s). 

“Bruno! Which Shell?!”

I stopped in my tracks.

“Total,” he said, “Opposite Uganda House.”

we don’t understand…the same things the same way


IN dealing with the countless frustrations that come with supervising work of any kind in this town, or understanding what one reads in newspapers, sees on television or hears on radio, I draw on the words of one of my wife’s former co-workers.

This employee, whose name I have never been interested in storing to memory, was a constant source of angst for my wife because he held a university degree, appeared to have lived in the city for a considerable period of time, and was an adult. Yet in spite of these three straightforward factors, he consistently made errors that she would have found irritating, incomprehensible and irrational even in a child. 

It was only in the most extreme of circumstances that she failed to restrain herself and it was after one of those that I picked up the phrase, “Don’t think we all understood things in the same way.”

His statement to her at that time went something like, “Madame, we might all have gone to the same classes and they told us the same things but don’t think we all understood things in the same way.”

Of course, this guy presents no threat whatsoever to Jesus Christ, Confucious or Sun-Tzu regarding their positions on the list of most quoted wise sayings.

But he is on my list because he spoke a very prominent truth in this society, even though it is ridiculous. The idea that one can ‘understand’ something wrongly is so mind-boggling that it must be true (see paragraph one above).

His eruption, by the way, was a result of my wife lambasting him for yet again being difficult (it would be impolite to say “stupid”).

You see, he had addressed an envelope wrongly.

Not by writing the wrong name or address on it, but by addressing it wrongly in all other ways: He had picked it up, presumably, placed it upside down on the table, flipped it somehow so the open end was facing him, and then written the name and address on the back. Yes – the side where the flap closes over. Yes – upside down, moreover, but I still don’t want to use the word “stupid”.

And, apparently, whereas along the way in his thirty plus years on earth he had probably been told how to address envelopes, he believed he had not understood how to do it the same way everyone else in the world did.

But, as he stated, he had ‘understood’ in his own way how envelopes are addressed.Image

In the past, my ignorance of this fact about how we understand things differently had led me to agonise greatly whenever I issued instructions such as “Please wash that car” or “Clean this room” and returned to find no evidence of said instructions having been heard or followed.

Ever since I heard what my wife’s colleague had said I had undergone an education and re-oriented my thinking. I had my own understanding of the instruction “clean” and the cleaner had his. Why had I not thought of this before? I would have saved myself countless headaches and litres of bile building up at the back of my throat!

And so last weekend, I found myself happily sharing that small pearl of wisdom with a poor man who was beside himself with anger at an electrician, a team of builders, and a TV repair man.

All three had made promises to be in position early one morning fixing very visible problems ahead of Easter celebrations, and none had shown up by the time breakfast was done.

It had been wrong to assume that they had understood the concepts of “being there” or “first thing in the morning” or, indeed, time in general.

Then, three days later, my wife went back to her clinic to collect the results of a set of some rather serious medical tests (as opposed to the casual, jocular by-the-way tests, I suppose) and was told with a small chuckle that there were none.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Sorry, madam,” she was told, by a clinical employee who recalled her so well from her visit just a couple of days prior, “They didn’t do the tests.”

Refusing to believe that this employee knew immediately that the tests had not been done, without having to check with any laboratory official, or doctor, or even pretending to consult a file or computer app, she persisted with her query.

“Madame, they didn’t do the tests. The doctor didn’t order for them,” said the employee, continuing without much prompting, “Yes, he called and told the lab but he didn’t follow-up so they threw the samples away.”

“Without doing the tests?!!!”

“Ya.”

During a very long #eish moment, my wife thought up a couple of questions such as: 1. Why didn’t the laboratory follow-up with the doctor so they could do the damn tests he had ordered by telephone? 2. Why didn’t the laboratory take action as soon as they realised that the doctor had not put his request in writing? 3. Wasn’t clinic bureaucracy going to affect her health, because how was she going to get the right treatment without a proper diagnosis of her situation? 4. What (the heck) do we do now?

The clinic staffer had responses for all three respectively: 1. (Chuckle, Chuckle) 2. (Chuckle, Chuckle) 3. Well, yes… 4. Please come in and take the tests again.

To which she pointed out that the tests would probably not make sense now because the situation she was in when she came in to do them was very different.

“Yes,” said the clinic staff, “they would probably be useless.”

Another #eish moment ensued.

We might all have gone to the same classes and they told us the same things but don’t think we all understood them in the same way.