Yusuf Abbas, a.k.a. Mze Tabliq lived a quiet and peaceful life in the outskirts of Lira Town with his wife and eight children in the 80s. Subsistence farming formed the majority of his daily routine until a serious illness disrupted his life. He had a serious obstruction in the stomach that needed surgery. Lacor was the only hospital capable of performing complicated surgery in the region that had been isolated from the rest of the country after Idi Amin was disposed.
After being tossed from one medical facility to another, Yusuf was finally referred to Lacor. When he first arrived at Lacor, he didn’t know that that would be the beginning of a never-ending journey to the hospital. His life was in danger. He had to be rushed to the theatre where he was successfully operated on.
“I saw the goodness of Lacor when I was brought here for operation. Lacor does not sell oxygen nor asks for bribe. When they’re operating on you, there will be 4-5 doctors and when one is stuck, they consult with each other; not like other,” he recalls.
In 1983, Yusuf became a truck driver. After the National Resistance Army (NRA) liberation war, he started coming to Gulu as a taxi driver. It wasn’t difficult for him to decide which route to ply. “I bring people to Lacor because it is blessed by God. All the people that I bring to Lacor survive most of the time unless their time had come,” he said.
Over the years, Yusuf has brought thousands to Lacor and taught his sons to do the same. Most of his clients call him. “I don’t know how they get my number,” he said when asked about how they connect to him.
Yusuf has a designated parking space in Lira City where his clients can locate him from. But the journey does not begin until 5 am in the morning. Most of his clients come from distant places such as Kaberamaido, Soroti, Amolatar and other places more than 300km away. After booking, Yusuf takes them to his house for the night where his large family is waiting with a warm meal. “I accommodate between 12-14 people every day. We leave Lira at around 5 am. Most of them do not know Lacor, so I bring them up to the gate,” said Yusuf.
A devout Muslim, Yusuf does not charge for the evening meal and accommodation. He keeps buying snacks on the way and gives his customers. “I have been traveling with him ever since I started coming to Lacor. He takes good care of his customers on the way. He buys for us bread, plaintain and sometimes maize,” says Akello, one of the passengers brought to Lacor recently.
Apart from taking care of his customers, Yusuf is a man who is very considerate when it comes to transport fare. He charges only 13,000shs. Despite charging way below the current rate of 20,000shs, he still agrees to reduce further when a customer appeals. “I do this for God. In Islam, they want us to help anybody whether it’s your sister, brother or not. You don’t have to publicise your good deeds. Some things are done in secret.”
Yusuf said that most of the people who look for him have never been to Lacor and for fear of being taken advantage of, they prefer to wait for him. Lacor is 6km away from the city center. The taxis that bring passengers from Lira stop in the city and those coming to Lacor have to either board another taxi or take a boda boda ride if they’re in a hurry. Yusuf brings his clients up to the hospital gate without charging any extras.
At Lacor Hospital, Yusuf is a well-known and respected old man. He is the only driver who can park and off-load his customers right at the hospital gate. Although we’ve known him for long, it was only recently that he agreed to have an interview. It took some convincing but we told him that beyond the publicity, his story would touch the lives and inspire many to serve mankind without discrimination.
Having married an Acholi woman, the old man is connected to Gulu in many ways. “I am training my children to be kind and take over from me because my time is coming to an end. Most of them are drivers and I am happy they’re following. What most people fear about hospitals is nurses shouting on patients but that is not the case with Lacor. They’re always happy with Lacor and they look for me to bring them here.”