My first day in Uganda, I was introduced to the bodaboda, by far the most popular form of transportation for people like me (ie, expat workers in Kampala who don’t own their own cars and care more about getting to their destination quickly and cheaply, rather than safely).
A bodaboda is nothing more than a basic motorcycle, and all over Uganda they’re used as one-person taxi systems. There is nothing quite like the experience of riding a bodaboda through Kampala traffic. The first few days, I was terrified. There is no noticeable rhyme or reason to most of the traffic patterns in the city, and bodabodas have an incredible knack of squeezing into spaces you wouldn’t think possible between huge trucks and vans, then veering off into oncoming traffic, dodging back into the next available gap between cars right before the oncoming van smashes it to smithereens.
And so, for the first few weeks, I gripped the back handle till my knuckles turned white, and pressed my legs tightly against the seat, praying to God every time that He wouldn‘t let me die even though I was recklessly engaging in such an obviously dangerous activity. In my head, I likened it to riding a bucking horse in a stampede (okay, slightly dramatic, I know). Every time I got off a bodaboda, slightly shaky and rather dusty, I swore that I would walk everywhere from then on.
But days turned into weeks, and before I knew it, bodabodas became an everyday part of my life in Kampala. I started to recognize the best routes to take, ones that would largely avoid the large crowds and hurtling hordes of vans and trucks on the main roads. I figured out how to wedge my purse between my legs to safeguard from other crafty drivers who can easily swipe the purses off the shoulders of unknowing bodaboda riders. I even grew brave enough to ride a bodaboda sidesaddle when I’m wearing a skirt on my way to the office or to church. And piling three people on a bodaboda? No problem.
For all these great success stories, I can’t say that I’ve perfected the negotiating-down-the-price routine. I’ve tried the stern, frustrated voice: “You can’t cheat me! That is too expensive!” to the sweet pleading: “Ah, sebo (sir), please… [insert winsome smile] I do not have much money. Can you give me a lower price?“ to the I‘m-so-cross-cultural approach “Ah, sebo, please, I do not want the mzungu (expat/whiteskin) price. What is the Ugandan price?” (note: for this approach to work, you need to pepper it with as many phrases as possible in Luganda, the local language here).
None of these attempts seem to work with overwhelming success, but I tend to try version #2 or #3 more often than the first approach. Even if they don’t work in lowering the price, it’s a lot more fun to ride with a bodaboda driver who thinks you’re a sweet person interested in his culture instead of an obnoxious mzungu determined to negotiate the price down by 20 or 30 cents.
Thankfully, I’ve become friends with Stephen, a bodaboda driver whose normal bodaboda stage is close to my apartment. He knows all my favorite places to go, gives me a fair price, and he even invited me to his home on the eastern edge of Uganda for Christmas with his wife and kids! And now? Bodaboda rides have become positively relaxing. Well… you know. As relaxing as a bucking bronco ride through a stampede can be. 🙂