Adventures in boda-boda rides

Posted: August 4, 2007 in Blog

There is an eery calm to traffic jams here. Because the cost of fuel is so out of whack with the rest of the economy, many people shut off their cars when they are caught in traffic. (Fuel costs the equivalent of about $1.50 a litre when the average income here is a fraction of the average income in Canada). Likewise, you have to be careful walking down a hill because you’re unlikely to hear a car approaching you from behind. Many drivers turn off their car at the top of a hill and coast as far as they can. Anything to save a few drops of gas.

And so it was that I was caught yesterday in traffic. I had to go to one of the malls here to stock up on things for the house so had to take a taxi back because of my bags. It took an hour to drive the approx. three kilometres between the mall and my house. What I would have done for a boda-boda at that moment…

Which brings me to boda-bodas. I must admit I’m hooked. I was leery at first about the notion of careening around the city on Soviet-era motorcycles, but those early apprehensions are gone and I’m loving it. (*Requisite Mom Disclaimer: I’m being careful about getting on ones that look safe with drivers who appear competent*)

Even in the worst of traffic jams, you fly on through on a boda-boda because they just weave their way through the jumble of cars.

Last night was my most adventuresome boda-boda trip. I was heading to a party at the Reuters’ correspondent’s house and had started out walking. But after about 20 minutes I turned down a main road that didn’t have any lights and it was getting dark so I decided to be smart and get a boda-boda the rest of the way.

I flagged one down and was negotiating with him about the price when I noticed a movement beside me and I turned to see a man with a (very large) gun come out of nowhere and hit the boda-boda driver, yelling at him in Luganda. The boda-boda driver took off and stopped about 50 metres down the road. I looked at the gun-toting man with reasonably wide eyes. But he smiled and told me that this stretch of the road is a restricted zone (something about a government building in the area) and boda-boda drivers know they can’t stop there. That’s what he had been yelling at the driver about. Turns out he’s a soldier in the Ugandan forces.

Cautiously, I said, “So it’s okay if I go speak to him down there?”, pointing at the waiting driver. It’s always good to ask permission from someone with a gun. “Yes, yes,” he said.

So I hopped on the boda-boda and off we went to the party. But not before he ran out of gas. I helped him push the motorcycle to the nearest gas station, where he put in less than a quarter of a litre of gas. Boda-bodas are stolen so frequently that many drivers put as little gas as possible in them to limit their losses if they get stolen.

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