Doreen Baingana on the Tuk-Tuk Trail
Baingana travels with uncertainty @ AGNI. You venture into the dark, and it looms over and crowds your every space, thick, even pushes into your earlobes like cotton wool, this hazy yellow darkness choked with harmattan dust. You are boxed in by solid air and you must breathe it in. You enter a tuk-tuk, the most rickety vehicle ever made, as if banged together from the spare parts of small cars circa 1960, Austins, say, and old saucepans panel-beaten into shape, all loosely held by rusted nails and chains and placed on top of what was once a three-wheeled motorbike, now an ungainly carriage with a snub metal nose. You sit on plastic, which is easy to wipe of dust, but clings like a kid to your sweaty thighs. All the tuk-tuks are painted orange to compete with the river of dirty sand called the road—haze, heat, rush, animal-like hoots and horns. Orange to shock your eyes into seeing.
Still, it provides the miracle every vehicle does: to move, all you have to do is sit, or rather grip desperately, as there are no side walls or doors. The breeze is a blessing; it strokes your cheek and whispers in your ear that you can breathe, it’s okay, but not too deeply. No, your lungs cannot suck air out of dust as fish do out of water. This dust that covers everything in a fine gray layer, gauze-like, sticky. You realize as you climb into the tuk-tuk that with cars you settle quickly, assured that the solid metal case will protect you from the rush of the busy street, the intense heat and light, the potholes underneath, the direct hit of any accident. For a while, driven from A to B, you have the pleasure of giving up responsibility and you sink gratefully into the cushioned bowl of the back seat. Not in a tuk-tuk. You sit, yes, but unsupported, holding tight to the rusty rail, sweaty fingers slipping as you are shaken from side to side like jelly, shaken inside out. You are in a blender, a coffee grinder, an angry machine that jostles and jangles you. It sets your stomach churning and everything in it is squeezed and kneaded and turns to shit, straining to escape with every hard bump, your ass clenched tight. Oops, you piss in your pants as the tuk-tuk driver swerves to avoid potholes the size and shape of dried ponds. His dark ball of a head bobs in front of you as he does the same desperate bouncing you do: the tuk-tuk dance.
Image: Jasper Knight at artwhatson.com.au