17 December 2012

Uganda: I Have a Storied House Out of Trucking - Driver

With an experience stretching to 43 years of driving lorries, one would expect Hajji Salaamat Ssebabi, 74, to be slowing down and perhaps be reliving the ups and downs that have eclipsed his life since he started his driving career in 1961.

But this middle-sized man who is yet to complete his storied building is still going strong and shows no signs of bowing out of his career which he believes defines his persona. "My job has christened me as a Lorry driver (Omuvuzi'wa lore)," reveals a veteran driver who holds strong opinion on trendy things and that is why he has a personalised number plate on one of his small cars.

"Although I came from a disadvantaged background with no education, I decided to work hard and acquire the things I once dreamt of in life," he says. "Building a storied building is a dream coming true," he says proudly.

With no education, he engaged in doing causal jobs at quite an early age until he raised money that gave him a chance to enroll for a driving course.

In 1961, he acquired a driving license, which ultimately became a tool that spurred him into his career as a lorry driver that later came to define his life.

How he started

He started as a taxi driver, but with hard work he was able to acquire his own car. In 1971, he bought a prime land of four acreage and built his first personal house.

Today, his first house which is adjacent to the storied building still stands, but serves as reminder of his humble beginnings.

The year 1972 was Sebabbi's turning point. "The expulsion of Indians was a blessing in disguise for me because at that time lorries were sold on the black market (magendo). With the saving I had, I was able to acquire my first personal lorry from an Indian friend who had to leave the country because of the expulsion," he says. "At that time lorry services were on high demand and I was able to transact business across Ugandan borders," he says.

In 1974, he visited Mecca. Upon coming back he became a family man and has close to 30 children, some of them still in primary. In 1981, he expanded his business territory by buying two more lorries.

"I bought two more lorries and hired four employees, a driver and his conductor and that is when I started making money" he revealed. Since he was making good profits, he hatched the idea of building a storied building. " I resolved not to build another small house before translating my dream into a reality," he said.

So he started saving towards his goal. I realised that building a storied building calls for a lot of money, so I started to put aside money," he says.

The building venture

In 2008, the foundation of his storied building was dug and the construction process was set in motion. But at that time, the whole project was beyond his financial reach. However, with determination and his strong belief that he would sleep in a personal storied house kept him going. In phases, he bought materials for the construction.

But when the construction reached the wall plate stage, he had a change of idea, instead of roofing with iron sheets he wanted tiles. "It was a big challenge because tiles are damn expensive," he says.

"I resolved to roof my house with tiles and placed my order at Kajjansi Clay factories. I can't recall the number of tiles I used, but the tiles were quite many. I reserved the balance for the construction of the small boy quarters," he says.

The whole construction process took him 10 years. In 2010 after he was done with the internal finishing he decided to relocate his family into his dream house. He is currently saving to embark on plastering and finishing the outside of the house.

n the meantime, the interior finishing is almost complete. He claims could cost over sh300m in its current state. Asked where he got resources, besides his job to finance such a big venture. He says he invested massively in buying and selling plots of land.

"Sometimes, I used the proceeds from the sale of my plots to further the construction process," he reveals.

The saying that never judge a book by its cover resonates well with Ssebabi's internal finishing. Ssebabi's internal finishing confirms his love for trendy things.

The brown leather chairs sparkle when he switches on the chandelier lights strategically placed in both the living room and the dining room.

However, Ssebabi acknowledges that his job has not been without challenges. His driving career has subjected his family to a lot of strain because much of the time he was on the move traversing various roads away from his family.

In the process, some of his children missed fatherly love which had greatly affected them as grown up parents. While on the road the veteran lorry driver says that he has encountered many challenges which ranged from being ambushed by armed thugs to mechanical breakdown.

"I still remember an incident when my lorry got a mechanical problem while on my maiden drive to Tanzania. I had just by passed the trading centre, suddenly the lorry broke down and I was stranded in the middle of the jungle," he says.

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