The tales of an unforgiving city: Salim, the Kanaabe

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It’s 1:00am on a shivery Wednesday morning in Kisenyi. The afternoon downpour left these parts of the capital cold, muddy and wet. While many of us are usually lost in deep slumber in beds at this time, a young man is working extremely hard; incessantly to earn a shilling. Salim, a 23-year-old who works at a local car wash is out there, in the blistering cold washing buses. He is helped by two other lads; one who cleans the interior and the other scrubs the tires and fetches the water they use.

Salim and his colleagues persevere through the horrid working conditions, they have no protective gear; no gloves and safety boots. The lighting of the place is very dim and yet one of the boys has to ladder up over 4 meters to wash the top of the bus. For over 30 minutes, I stand there trying to comprehend the compelling needs that keep these young boys struggling to survive in an unforgiving city. Salim opens up to me, he tells me the bus drivers pay them twenty to thirty thousand shillings depending on how dirty the bus is or how well one can bargain.
The twenty thousand shillings will be paid out to Salim. He will depart with eight thousand that he hands to the manager of the car wash. The rest will then be shared amongst themselves with Salim taking five thousand shillings because it was his call and he bought the detergent they used. The three of them each make three thousand five hundred for all their struggle. Over two hours of being out in the cold, soaking wet with blisters and cuts on their hands, these young men have only earned that much.

‘’It’s not much but, I can barely survive. This is not even enough to get me a plate of decent food but at least I get to have some money in my pocket. Today I was lucky that I washed at least 3 buses and 2 boda-bodas. Life is not easy.’’  Salim narrates to me his story.
Salim is among millions of youth who are swallowed up in casual labor. They barely earn enough and are highlyexploited. With Uganda having one of the highest unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa,  It’s not surprising that many of the youth now see gambling and betting as their savior out of poverty. Uganda National Bureau of Statistics estimates that over 400,000 youthful men and women join the labor market each year but barely half of them get a slot in the employment circle. The informal sector has played out majorly in employing the youth like Salim albeit poor working conditions, long working hours and no medical, life or any form of insurance.

I look at my watch and it’s 2:00am. After talking to Salim for over 20 minutes, I retire back home to sleep but for him, it is still work. He has to wipe dry the bus before he can put down his tools and then rest for 3 to 4 hours before he starts this same routine over again. His hands are burnt and soaked from the water and washing detergent they use. The cuts will not have enough time to heal before he adds to them and his family back in the village will expect him to send them money. I put my head to rest but the images of a young man keeping out late to survive in this unforgiving city play in my head.