On Bodas

Posted: August 21, 2007 in Blog

Last Saturday I was hanging out with some friends when two of us left to meet up with others at a Kampala bar. We walked to the nearest main road, knowing there would be boda-bodas (the motorcycle taxis) there that we could hop onto for the trip.

We got to the main road, and, much to our chagrin, there was only one boda. A long look to the right, and a long look to the left did not produce any sign of a second taxi.

Now, it’s not uncommon for two people to squeeze on a boda with the driver.

But it’s a little more rare for two fully-grown men to do it.

“You think we can do it?” my friend, an American, asked.

“I think we have to,” I answered, trying to figure out the logistics of how this would work.

My friend is over six feet tall. I’m not, but I take up my share of real estate all the same (sort of the sprawling Texas ranch to his Manhattan skyscraper).

He volunteered to sit in the middle. “I’ve never been in the middle before,” he said. And I squeezed on the back, with his feet on top of mine on the small pegs that act as footrests.

And off we went. Even from the back I could sense the bemused grin on the boda-boda driver’s face.

My friend was leaning to one side so he could see the road ahead, while I leaned the other– enjoying the breeze like two puppies who discovered for the first time the joys of an open window in a moving car.

We made it just fine. Though upon arrival we jokingly shared glances of the “Let’s-never-speak-of-this-again” variety.

Boda-bodas have become such a central part of life in this city. You can’t get anywhere without them. The only other option, besides over-priced special hire taxi cars, is matatus. But those over-crowded mini vans can sit in traffic forever, as you watch forlornly at the boda-bodas that fly by you.

So instead, I’m the one on those boda-bodas. Criss-crossing the city from interview to interview, haggling for prices and, sometimes, helping the boda-boda I jumped on get pushed to the nearest gas station since they have an alarming tendency to run out of gas within 10 seconds of hopping on.

Today I was late for an interview and riding a boda whose driver had a sense of direction that left something to be desired. As we flew down the street I heard the engine skip a beat. A sure sign of diminishing gas.

We coasted to a stop and I contemplated looking for another boda-boda since there was no gas station in sight. But calmly, the driver got off, tipped the motorcycle on its side so that whatever fumes were left in the tank would enter the fuel line, set the machine back upright, started it up and said “Okay, we go.”

And so we did, somehow getting to my destination on whatever was left in the tank.

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