Nyabugogo is not only Rwanda’s leading open market place; it is also Rwanda’s leading terminal for public transport commuters.
The writer on assignment upcountry walked in and out of Nyabugogo’s gates many times recently, along the way, shopping a variety of accessories from kitchen ware to stationery materials.
Nyabugogo resembles a circus caravan, it is colourful, and there’s music-music coming from all corners of the universe and the park.
There are the little shouting men with hoarse voices who are happy to see anybody entering the park. They revere you like you are some succulent piece of beef. Their happiness is because they have-presumably-found a passenger.
They will be rewarded with a cigarette by a taxi driver-any taxi driver. On the upper end of Nyabugogo Taxi Park are clusters of temporary offices housing ticket booking centres for travellers in express taxis which follow a specific timetable-which travellers’ book in advance.
These run to a set timetable (usually hourly) between major towns, generally Kigali and a major regional centre. The taxis are run by companies: Sotra Tours, Atraco, Stella, Volcanoes Express, Virunga, Trans2000, Omega Car and Muhabura Travel.
Standing in one place vendors-dressed in Mike Tyson, Tupac and Bin Laden shirts gather around you, carrying their wares-chewing gum, biscuits, and cigarettes.
You do not want anything but they keep standing there; they have nothing else to do. When you go to the stage-heading to Nyagatare or anywhere out of town, your patience could be pushed to the brink.
The taxis in Nyabugogo Park are mostly built to seat twelve passengers by international standards, but the operators have seen much more sense in crafting more seats inside the van- at times there’s no maximum number of passengers, the only law the conductor observes in Nyabugogo is observing the minimum of 18 passengers inside before the vehicles drives off.
It is difficult to describe the number or nature of all the additions, the wielded on extensions, the cushions above the engine cover and twists and turns involved.
Such is the dilemma that Tabaro Peter was to encounter recently when he was rudely awakened by a plumb passenger sitting next to him.
Upon entering the taxi, plumb passenger occupied a seat that could accommodate three passengers, there were two already. Plumb passenger spread his arms on top of the seat like an eagle, literally letting the other passengers carry his hands.
Plumb passenger, on a hot shiny day was steaming with sweat from his arm pits, he yawned violently, it did not help either that he kept talking on top of his voice. Tabaro was put under a sustained session of torture that lasted the journey from Kigali to Nyagatare.
It was even harder whenever a passenger had to disembark along the way, in ATRACO taxis the space to get in or out of the van is painfully narrow.
According to Col. (rtd) Dodo Twahirwa, the Director of the Association for Transport Companies (ATRACO), his organization emphasizes the need for taxi driver and their conductors to avoid cases of over loads and the need for the conductors to spare a seat for themselves.
When a taxi is full, for one to get out or in, all the passengers must do so as well, the intricate calibration of the internal arrangements is as tight and precise as the workings of a sculptor, and whoever occupies a place must take into account the fact that for the next several hours, for all intents and purposes, he will not be able to move so much as a toe.
The worst are the hours of waiting for the taxi to get the minimum 18 passengers. When one must sit in the hot, airless taxi, in case of our taxi-it took almost 2 hours to set off for Nyagatare.
Isaac Newton described time as absolute, true, mathematical time of itself and from its own nature flows equably and without relation to anything external. At school we are taught to observe and respect time.
We must heed deadlines, days and hours. In public transport, it is entirely different-the only law here at Nyabugogo is a taxi must get full.
When a passenger gets inside the taxi, they immediately fall into a state of waiting-mute, talkative at times. We were about to set off when one passenger-a powerful well built young man named Claude Mugisha announced his bag had been stolen.
Thefts like these are a common occurrence the world over-but Claude’s reaction boarded on madness. There’s something irrational about stealing from a poor man, who often has but only the luggage he is carrying on himself.
It is a sharp contrast when you consider the quality of the roads these taxis drive on. While the roads are straight out of a major developed country-by comparison to our neighbouring countries, the taxis are mostly the opposite.
The responsibility of cleaning inside the vans is not agreed upon by driver and conductor, otherwise what else explains why the seats are always dirty, a mixture of dust and sweat from the over packed passengers conspire to create a very unhealthy odour for travellers.
Robert Musoni, a frequent traveller between Kigali and Nyagatare says, “These taxis are always-overstuffed vans with all types of fumes and liquids yet they serve as public transportation, I think the government of Rwanda should enforce hygiene rules here like it applied in restaurants.”