The first time I tried to use that popular saying ‘Kampala sibizimbe’, I got it wrong. I said Kampala sizimbe, much to the amusement of my mean relatives. It can be loosely translated to mean Kampala is not just pretty buildings. Things are hard and you’ve got to be creative to survive. My version of ‘sizimbe’ also works, if you open your mind up a little but you know, whatever.
I like people who hustle. Let me rephrase that for honesty. I like men who hustle. I’m pretty ambitious myself (although not as rabidly as say, two years ago) because I’ve already realized my childhood dream; which was to write in the same ‘paper area’ as Ernest Bazanye. If you’re my age (and as sharp as I am), your mind started to flower just about when he started writing, so you can understand how glorious and unattainable that goal seemed to me. Whatever hustling that had to be done for me to achieve it got done and now I’m relaxing a bit.
Give me a man with good hustle-sense and you can keep the dowry. Dowry exists mostly to show a girl’s parents that the family she is marrying into can take care of her in as grand a way as she’s accustomed to or even grander. If he can chase deals and dream up businesses, he’s a good enough substitute.
I’m supportive of every kind of hustle until it infringes on my own. If, for example, I were in a hurry to get to a meeting on the other side of town, I wouldn’t expect my boda man to behave the way my friend Roger’s did. I would react with a lot of annoyance in fact.
Roger once flagged down a boda to take him from Greenland Towers to Kamwokya. He hadn’t even finished stating the amount he was willing to pay when the man started riding at a high speed. It is only when they reached Wandegeya that he turned and asked, “Mpozzi where are you going?” When Roger said Kamwokya, the boda man killed the engine and told him to get off. Eyo sigendayo.
Asked why he’d allowed Roger to board in the first place, the man replied, “They beat people at that Greenland stage! If you stop nga you don’t belong there? I stopped for you because banange, Kampala sibizimbe. I also need money!”
And it’s not only boda types that have taken hustling to insane levels. Even not so desperate people with steady allowances are capable of hitting you over the head with the silliest schemes. My cousin once tried to sell drinking water to members of the household. He took the jerry cans off the dining table and held them hostage, smiling smugly at everybody who came from the kitchen with a cup. He demanded a sum, any sum the thirsty person was willing to pay. Later, he tried to pretend that he’d been trying to teach us life lessons, to make us really think about capitalism and how it has turned humanity’s most basic of needs into a thing to be exchanged for money, but we were on to him.
Tiny children and their mothers flooded Kampala’s streets a few years ago. No longer contented with just chasing after you in the hope of making a few hundred shillings, they threaten. Some say they’ll spit, and others even wave handfuls of feces in your direction, to inspire your generosity. This is terrible, but also impressive. They’ve turned begging into an art, a real hustle.