Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Bakiga Window: When the Power Goes at the Petrol Pump

Yasin begins to show concern on his face following the power cut.
Yasin, the quiet, unassuming bus driver who so readily helped me make contact with the Islamic school has got a look of concern on his face. In his soft voice he seems to be articulating some point of concern to the petrol pump attendant in Rukiga.

It is Saturday 16th April and we’re filling up the Kigezi High School bus, ready for the journey to Lake Bunyonyi. Following the showers of the morning, the clouds have now parted and are beating a hasty retreat into the distance, allowing for the sun to slowly scorch the earth.

The reason that Yasin is looking nervous is not immediately apparent as I stand at the side of the road, taking a photo of the bus. He starts to walk towards me and in his hushed tones imparts that the electricity has cut out.

In my immediate stupidity I respond that there is nothing to worry about as it’s a petrol station not a power plant, but the problem is a little bigger than that. The issue seems to be that the attendant is unsure about how much money she needs to charge us and how much diesel has actually been put into the school bus already. It seems that Umeme is going to force us all to make use of long forgotten mathematic skills.

Our attendant proceeds to produce a number of receipts from other customers, followed by log book, a reading from the analogue display on the pump and a book of numbers written up at the start of business that day. She then disappears leaving Yasin and I looking at puzzled at each other.

A few minutes later she re-enters the room saying that she can’t find her calculator. Cue the three of us crowded around my old, slightly knackered Nokia 2760 adding up the total amount of litres of petrol sold since the start of the day, subtracting this from the analogue counter and then checking it against the log book readings.

By the end of working this all out, the sheet of paper we've made our notes on looks like a formula belonging to quantum physics. After around twenty minutes of checking, re-checking and then checking again, we came to the conclusion that we had put in around 100 litres of fuel and needed to add a further twenty to be on the safe side.

Having paid for the fuel and re-boarded the bus, a chorus of questions flew forward concerning the nature of our delay. Frankly, after all that arithmetic I wasn’t in the mood for explaining and asked Yasin to pull away, bound for the tranquility of the lake.

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