A young lady stands in the Nyabugogo tax park speaking on the public pay phone service known as tuvugane. Next to her is a group of girls doing exactly the same thing.
They seem to speak in a funny, colloquial manner. And the young lady is complaining.
You have seen them: callers fighting over tuvugane, especially on weekends. Some are young kids fit to be in primary schools. You will find them lining up.
All want to make calls. But calling who? I am curious and want to find out what they say to those on the receiving end.
In Nyabugogo, I camp at one of the tuvugane stalls and wait nervously. Suppose they find out I am spying on? I cringe in fear. But all the same, I have to give it a try.
I listen carefully.
One girl is complaining to her boyfriend she calls Moses.
“If you don’t visit me today, I am leaving you,” she threatens. I edge closer and listen in silence.
She later develops a smile on her cheeks. Her friend whom I had not noticed before gives her a congratulatory smile albeit from a safe distance. Then suddenly she moves closer to her buddy.
“Girl you made it. But I am still stuck here,” she reveals having previously made a call but was not sure if she would be picked up.
“You know what? We shall move together with him if they do not pick you up today,” she tells her. The two walk away in good spirits as others queue to make calls
I try to follow them a little bit to get their names but they refuse to tell me, telling me that they have an urgent programme.
I return to base camp. All that are there seem to be staring at me. I worry they know I was spying on them. But I try to feign confidence and draw closer as if I also want to make a call.
Then a girl struts towards my direction. She is in tight jeans commonly known as a weekend suit. She steps on me as she tries to make it to the phone.
“Sorry dear, I am sorry,” she politely tells me. Bending to clean my shoe, I tell her, it’s alright, but take the chance to befriend her.
Making it to the phone, she laments, “Jean, I have been waiting for you for over a full hour. Were you fooling me? But any way, no problem.” She hangs up.
Immediately she receives a call. “It’s Jean,” she tells her friend and then answers the call.
“You only have a few minutes or otherwise I will go.”
She comes to me to tell me sorry again. I start to joke with her and ask her if she has lost some one as she was in such a hurry to make the call. She responds, “It is my boyfriend that had delayed me.”
I inquire why she couldn’t find him wherever he maybe. She says that she had to tell him that she has no money so she just had to tell him to collect her.
“Anyway I am Juliet Uwanyana and you?” she poses the question with a smile.
I take the opportunity to ask her why many girls use tuvugane yet most carry expensive mobile phones.
“Tuvugane phones really work for us. We always want to show people that we are poor, especially our boyfriends, and you can only do it on a tuvugane phone.”
Uwanyana says that it’s only on a tuvugane that her boyfriend will understand that she is poor.
“When you call someone using your phone, the person will know that since you have money to load on your phone you are rich,” says Uwanyana.
Uwanyana is later called by the boyfriend who tells her to find him at Car Wash, for his car was in a garage and couldn’t make it to pick her but would pay the motorcycle fare if she took one.
I head back to those busy making calls. Most of them are girls. I listen in to their conversations. Most of them try to keep the conversation short.
One girl who couldn’t reveal her name says that tuvugane saves her a lot of money.
“If you have Frw60, you can call someone and tell them to call you back.”
But I still wanted to know why most of the callers were girls and why they were only calling men.
She asks me a rhetorical question, “Whom do you expect us to call? Girls!! What for? Maybe you do not know that like poles do not attract.”
“Men want us and that’s why we call them. Most of the girls who come for calls are calling their boyfriends for weekend outings or dinners. That’s how we survive here at campus given the hard life we face.”
Another girl who also preferred to remain anonymous says that tuvugane is among the things that makes her life.
“I am out going and love to be with friends who are mostly men. Men like spending on girls. But they expect something in return. It’s about taking good care of yourself.”
I wondered if these girls do not fear talking in public when such matters ought to be private.
Uweyezu Moses, a tuvugane operator on the road that leads to the School of Finance and Business (SFB), says that girls are not afraid to talk with their boyfriends in his presence or any other person’s presence.
They come, sometimes in a group, seemingly knowing what whoever is going to call will say. At the end, they will laugh some times saying “yes deal, deal,” in happiness of the response.
“I sometimes enjoy operating a tuvugane due to the stories I hear. There was one time, and I think a girl had chucked a boyfriend, when she came to make a call, she only disgraced him. She was not polite in her words, telling him never to call her again and never to boast of his wealth in front of her again.”
Harelimana Pascal, also a tuvugane operator, says that girls do not want to use the small credit they have on their mobile phones and opt to use tuvugane. However, he says, boys too use tuvugane to connect with their friends, though not as many of them.
Tumuhimbise Ambrose, a student at SFB, says that boys fear to be looked down on by ladies.
“If you call a girl using a tuvugane, she will never respect your demands and will always look at you as not able. That’s why people who have phone numbers that start with 0830… will always take away campus girls because they believe they are loaded,” says Tumuhimbise.