Thursday, September 1, 2011

All that fits...on a boda-boda

I held my breath and clung tighter to my burden as the driver attempted to gently navigate the speedbumps, potholes and other rough places along the road. My burden? A plastic bag of groceries and a cardboard "crate" of 30 raw eggs. In front with the driver was also my heavy backpack and another plastic sack.

My "crate" of eggs - two cardboard forms, tied together with twine.

I have gained a notorious reputation here for breaking eggs left in my care. Not on purpose, of course. Once while carrying a box of eggs to the Smith home, right before reaching the porch, the bottom of the box fell out, in an untimely release of my precious load. Not all of the eggs broke, but a good number did.

Then another day while carrying a plastic sack of eggs across main street in Jinja, I slipped on the curb and fell with the eggs, resulting in some "fatalities."

The other day, as I precariously sat on the back of the "boda-boda" (motorcycle), with my burden and bound for the boat to the island, I began thinking about this form of transport.

Motorcycles that you can hire for as little as 25 cents to take you from here to there are a very common form of transport in Uganda, as well as in many other African countries. When you don't have your own car, they make getting around pretty easy. They were dubbed boda-bodas as they travel from "border to border." We often just call them "boda" for short.

 A friend and I on the back of a boda.

I have shared in other posts how riding on the back of a motorcycle is my favorite way to travel here. It certainly beats being packed with up to 20 others in a public taxi the size of a VW bus. And I love the wind whipping through my hair, how close you feel to your surroundings, and the view that beats any seen from a car or bus.

Just about anywhere you go, especially near a city or village, boda men and their bikes congregate on corners, waiting for their next customer. If they spot you nearby, usually one or two will ask if you need a ride, or honk to indicate their question. You can "hail one" by waving or sometimes simply by raising your eyebrows if you are close enough. (Yes, I have done this before.)

Next you need to negotiate a price. Often there is a set cost for going a particular distance, but some boda men may try and take advantage of "white" or "dollar" skin, as most whites are seen as "rich." Once a price is agreed on, you hop on - either straddling or sitting side saddle on the seat. Then you're off! And hang on! I have had some scary and fast rides, but for the most part I feel safe as the driver navigates the roads.

Taking a photo from the back of a boda.

Bicycles or piki-pikis (peechee-peechees) are another similar way of getting around, though slower than the motorcycles. They were the original "boda-bodas," but have been superseded as motorcycles have become more common and taken over the bulk of the two-wheeled transport business.

Because motorcycles and bicycles are common and fairly inexpensive, people use them for carrying many, many things and not just themselves. I have seen up to three adults riding on the back of a motorcycle. Sometimes a child or two can be added with the driver in the front.

A stack of soda crates, a bedframe perched on end, a bookcase, large sacks of charcoal, boxes and bags of food, chickens, containers of water and more are among the "loads" these two-wheeled vehicles can carry. Sometimes I wonder how they do it and if there is anything they can't carry. And then I can't help but smile when I see yet another type of "cargo" being hauled by a boda. (I am sorry I don't have any photos to show some of these "loads," but will hopefully be able to take some as I have opportunity. Most of the time I don't seem to have my camera handy at these times.)

One thing I have learned from Ugandans is ingenuity and "where's there's a will, there's a way." They can pack the most people and the most things in a taxi or on a boda-boda. Usually every bit of space is used.

My eggs and I made it safely to the boat the other day and across the lake to the island. When I reached the island SHIM base, I learned only one egg of the 30 had "escaped." The remaining 29 were still in their crate, and had fared the journey well. Perhaps number 30 is enjoying a "swim" at the bottom of the boat.

For some interesting reading, check out the Wikipedia article on boda-bodas,

This photo really has nothing to do with my post, but I thought it was funny. This boat, bound for Lukoma Island, was tied at the port when I left for Lingira Island. I like its phrases: "No smoking" and"Keep the time." I have never seen anyone smoke on a boat (smoking is actually pretty rare in Uganda). "Keep the time" means exactly that - don't be late. :)

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