Monday, November 4, 2013

What is a boda boda?

This is a taxi stand.
 It may not look like what you are expecting, but for a Kampala resident, the boda boda is the cheapest and most common type of taxi.These mini taxis cluster on the street corners where the drivers spend their time chatting and socializing.  Some of the larger stands also seem to function as garages, where mechanical drivers tune up and repair their bikes.

If you want to get around the city, you can always walk.  Many people walk long distances every day. But Kampala is a bustling capital city with many hills, and motorized transport is much in demand.  There are the ever present Toyota mini vans, called Matatos, but a more personal, though seemingly more dangerous alternative, is the boda boda.

Boda bodas are everywhere.  They weave between lanes of traffic, creating their own narrow paths between blocked cars and trucks.  They have no respect for traffic lights, and only stop to unload their passengers. The audacious drivers speed their riders to their destinations, with great skill.  

The boda boda is a motorcycle specifically adapted for passengers.  Behind the driver is a wide bench, with hand holds for the brave riders.  Most of the time it is a single person, but often two passengers squeeze together on the seat behind the driver.  The passengers are often women with packages to carry. Sometimes it is a man in a suit, carrying a brief case.  Only once have I seen a  white man riding like this.

Once I saw a smartly dressed woman slide off her boda boda perch, rest her handbag on the seat, pull out a pair of white high heels, and slip them on her feet.  Then she slipped the sandals into her bag, and headed for the cathedral entrance.  

Another time I noticed little feet peeking out as a mother rode, carrying her small child in her lap.
The drivers often wear helmets, but I have rarely seen a passenger so equipped. I have also not seen an accident, but I have no doubt that they occur.  This is a place where even crossing the street is risky.  

Since they go everywhere boda bodas can be a nuisance.  When we went to the Ndere Cultural Center, we saw the following sign. "No boda bodas beyond this point."  But these cycles are ubiquitous.  And everyone depends on them.

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