Saturday, 19 January 2013

Cancel the removalists. Relocating vía boda - you can do it.

Moving vía boda - yes you can do it.

I'm in snowy London at the moment. How on earth did I ever survive for five years in this city?

That's me above, on a boda, going not to the airport, but moving to my new place in Kampala just before I left for Entebbe on Thursday evening. As this blog has reported previously, some bodas have been known to carry everything but the kitchen sink. Shocking, that. So a medium-sized suitcase on the middle of a bike was never going to cause one to bat an eyelash, but then I am a mzungu (whitey).

Hey you, don't think you've got enough on the back of this bike! Put some more on!!

I moved my things in three stages, proudly using a boda every time (well I am doing a blog on them). The trip from my old place to my new place takes about 20 minutes and I paid on average about 6,000 Ugandan shillings ($2.25 USD). The first time was by far the longest (albeit most hilarious) as I packed up all my things at night and then tried to move sans hardly any street lights. I'm surprised my boda driver David got us there safely, as my large backpack was sitting on the handle bars of his bike for the entire journey.

I must have knocked on the gates of close to six compounds, saying to a score of bewildered faces, "Am I living here now?" as I pointed my torch. "No," replied all of them. Boy, they don't know how boring their lives are going to be. After all, I'd certainly got the entire neighborhood out of bed after getting lost; this could have been one of the most exciting nights of their lives. Who needs the X Factor for entertainment when you have stupid mzungus, out on the chaotic streets of Kampala, attempting to move house via a motorbike? In the end I found my new digs.

On the second trip though I was also loaded down with stuff and my suitcase (the same black one in the above pic) tied to the back of the bike by my old neighbor, Eric. We made it - without having to ask someone for directions and with my luggage intact. For a girl whose suitcase once burst on the conveyor belt of Gatwick Airport, revealing her underwear to half of Britain, it was an extremely risky move moving by boda, but I did it, thanks to my very loyal drivers. In London I had once used AussieMan&Van to move, but I'm pleased to report that UgandanMan&Boda are just as good, if not better. And their customers are probably even more demanding.

My removalist, David, aka UgandanMan&Boda.

I still have a few untold boda stories up my sleeve, so while I'm on my travels I'll be bringing them to you. But I can't help but wondering what's going to happen when they run out... Are there any bodas in Blighty? Have you got any tales of a bodacious boda? Let me know.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

"People were proud." Meet a boda from Kapchorwa District, Kiprotich heartland.

And here it is. Kiprotich Hotel.
Kapchorwa District, where I made a flying visit to on Sunday, may be the birthplace of Stephen Kiprotich, who broke Uganda's 40-year Olympic gold medal drought last year and may now hold a very special place in the country's athletics history. But it seemed, upon my arrival, that just about every male in Kapchorwa Town had flocked to Noah's Ark Hotel, where I was staying and was engrossed in the football game between Arsenal and Manchester.

The scene down the road at Kiprotich Hotel, the bar on the main street newly renamed after Uganda's golden boy, was the same. But that doesn't mean they don't have a lot of love for Kiprotich, who was born in Cheptiyal village and still swings by Kapchorwa occasionally despite being "rewarded" 200 million Ugandan shillings ($74,696 USD) by President M7 following his victory. 

"You need to use it proper," said Beatrice, my local tour guide, when we discussed Kiprotich's rise to fame in the car that day on the way back from Sipi Falls, one of the area's main tourist attractions.

"You know these opportunities come once in a lifetime.

"You cannot guarantee getting it twice."

Outside Kiprotich Hotel, in front of a big pile of bricks and opposite The Classic Uni Sex Salon and Barbershop and Paradise Hotel, I met Ken, a Kapchorwa boda.  

Kiprotich Hotel. But where is everyone?
Watching the football inside, that's where!

This guy on the balcony of Kiprotich Hotel's a good egg. Wonder what he was doing with these eggs???

The 25-year-old, who has the funkiest motorbike seat I've seen yet, was born in upper Kapchorwa but lives "a bit far" from the town in Ngangnta village with his wife and two-month-old baby. 

Is that not the funkiest boda seat you've ever seen?

Before he became a boda driver five years ago Ken was a peasant farming maize, cows, beans and millet. Over a Fanta, the Kapchorwa boda's drink of choice, he told me about being a rider in the town and his admiration for the district's most famous son:
First up, are you happy about Stephen Kiprotich's Olympic success?
I saw him. I was happy and excited. I saw him on the TV. People were proud. I normally come (to this pub). He normally stops here. I'd never heard of him before (he won). He normally trains some people from here. It's a familiar person. We like him so much.

Kapchorwa boda Ken.

Besides being the home district of Uganda's golden boy, what else is special about Kapchorwa?
The motorcycles (of course!), vehicles, businesses, churches for Born Agains, schools.

The Classic Uni Sex Salon and Barbershop. Make sure the roof doesn't cave in as yer getting yer hair plaited!

What are the big attractions for mzungus (whiteys, like myself?)
There are Mt Elgon and Sipi Falls.

Beautiful Sipi Falls.

Do you like your job and if so why?
I like it. I get money, feed my family and am managing to care for myself. Everyday if I drive it (the boda) well, if the day has been good, I make 50,000 shillings ($18 USD).

As my digs, Noah's Ark Hotel pointed out, Kapchorwa is the "home of great people". Not just Kiprotich but also my boda driver Ken.

Are there lots of bodas in Kapchorwa District?
There are very many. Some of them are earning a good living but some of them are not earning because of their driving and carelessness of motorcycles.

Move over Obama tribute. It's all about Kiprotich now.
But don't think that winning Olympic Gold for Ug will get you bumped up in the brekkie line for the bacon and eggs. It won't!

The Ugandan papers the day after that race.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

When skating's quicker than a bodaboda (but more deadly).

Look ouuuuuut!

And here I was thinking I'd have to write a boring post about what the boda drivers do when it rains. That's the thing about Kampala, you never know what you'll see on the roads. In the past year I've spotted a camel, a matatu (taxi) called School Fees, a male boda wearing a fluro pink, yellow and black leotard over a pair of tights, another one carrying a naked person. Every week I add to my list.

But I never thought I'd bump into a group of about skaters as I was getting off a boda near Makerere to meet my friend Tinka at her office on drizzly Saturday last week.

We're constantly being told in Ug that bodas are supposedly dangerous, and to avoid them. To skate though, surely one must really have a death wish?

Abey Selukunkuma, a musician who works part-time for Ashe Entertainment, which was formed in 2007 and hires skaters to promote Ugandan brands such as MTN, Stanbic and even high profile Pastor Kayanja's Miracle Cathedral Central, says without a doubt rollerblading is more dangerous than taking a boda.

"Skating is more dangerous," he told me. "We go through a lot of hard times because we're strong and passionate about this."

The 23-year-old's been rollerblading for a decade since he saw a friend doing it. In more recent times he's witnessed three young friends, all skating to earn money, die on Kampala's roads, and escaped death himself. The latest fatality was in July when a skater collided with a taxi. Another victim died after being struck by a truck while on a water break. The skater was dragged along the ground by the lorry as his friends watched, helplessly.

Abey himself ended up in Mulago hospital and unconscious for a day after grabbing the back of a car and trying to hitch a lift on busy Entebbe Road.

"I felt I was strong enough and I wouldn't fall off. I was that confident," he recalls.

"When someone tells us to leave the car sometimes we are stubborn. We don't want to leave the car.

"But the guy drove the car at high speed and suddenly had to stop (break). Guess what happened? I fell off.

He "rolled and rolled and rolled in the middle of the road".

"A boda was about to hit me," says Abey, who with his dreadlocks looks like quite a tough dude, but who I later discover has I Will Always Love You as his call waiting music on his phone.

Despite the skyhigh chance of a similar incident occurring, he's not packing away his rollerblades anytime soon.

"An accident's an accident. If something's bound to happen it will happen," says the Ashe chief skater brazenly.

"A car can run into you from anywhere."

The money and freebies are a big lure, he admits. Abey says he has up to 50 skaters on call at any one time and each get at least 50,000 Ugandan shillings per job.

"We get to go to entertainment shows for free," he explains, adding that the December until February period is normally the most profitable.

But some thrill seekers will even skate for nada.

"That kind of excitement can push you to do it," Abey says.

The skates usually arrive in Kampala on big containers via lorries importing goods into Uganda. Excited rollerbladers flock to Entebbe Road in the city to buy them. As for their gear, this is purchased from Owino.

Abey says if there's an individual who has "the passion" for skating it may take them only one week to learn. But for someone who is "fearful" they may still be trying to master it a month later.

Riding a bodaboda, Abey insists, is for people who simply want to earn money.

"But skating is for both fun, and you can earn," he concludes.

When asked whether the skaters like sharing the road with the bodas, Abey says he respects them but "There are some things that they do that don't make sense".

"It's as if they want so much to see us being hurt, yet for us skaters we don't want to see the bodas hurt.

Oh, and there's one more thing that irks him about Kampala's motorbike drivers (warning: you may be shocked).

"Most bodaboda drivers smoke weed," Abey says.

Eat your heart out Torvill and Dean.


An even bigger poser, in the middle wearing the mustard-coloured dress.

Oh, and as for the weather today, it is raining cats and dogs, so you know what you're likely to read on here next...

And the posing didn't end there. Check out that nice red bike.

Fancy footwork.

Julian, 31, a boda with seven years of experience:

"Driving a boda can be more dangerous than skating because skating it is a game. But riding a bodaboda is part of making money and in the process of making money you don't know who you're taking on this bodaboda. The one (passenger) you're taking might be a thief who's after that bodaboda, he ends up killing you and taking the bodaboda.

"But physically, skating is more dangerous than this one, because you're competing with pedestrians, motorcycles, taxis. You can even be skating on a road which isn't tarmaced where there are some potholes. The moment he comes to that pothole he's broken the leg.

"I don't want to do this (skating). I fear it."

John, 32, also a boda of seven years:

"Bodaboda is quickest. Now, if you are coming up here from the other end, you can meet a vehicle and touch it (grab onto it) so it can take you up.

"Skating is done by the youths, people who are still energetic. I'm beyond that age."

My regular boda driver Julius won't be getting his skates on anytime soon.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Have you seen a BOB (boda-on-boda?) Plus more boda accessories.

If we go a bit closer it's... a boda carrying a bicycle seat and wheel.

I'm yet to see a BOB (aka a boda-on-boda, i.e. a bike carrying a passenger carrying another bike) as my lucky mzungu friends both formerly of Uganda Lucy Mallatrat and Mark Daku (he bought his own boda during his time here as he thought it would work out better) have. But I think that the day I do will be the day I can then go under a boda (or Pioneer Bus, or matatu) as really there will be nothing else to live for on this earth.

The closest I've come to seeing a BOB so far has been seeing a boda carrying a bicycle seat and wheel, which happened yesterday on approach to... yes that's right Garden City mall. 

Someone who's unlikely to be carrying a BOB anytime soon is the driver below, aka One (a Bono fan perhaps?), who I caught taking a siesta underneath a tree opposite Garden City.

Feeling a bit sleepy, are we?

In boda style news, Jesus key rings are still all the rage, as I discovered while being dropped off in Makerere yesterday.

On this bike, the Lord is always with you.

Faux leather pants and belt chains, as seen on one of my regular driver's John, below, are also in fashion.

My regular cabbie has fashion written all over him.

Earlier this week, this blog reported that Louis Vuitton chain wallets were also popular among drivers.

It's not a man bag, but it *is Louis Vuitton.

Have you been lucky enough to see a BOB in Ug? If so please let me know the details.

It may be a (DOB) dummy-on-boda and not a BOB, but I still love this shot.

Oh, and Mark (I'm hoping he'll write for this blog soon) has also done some interesting research (yours truly took part) on the, umm, drinking habits of expats in Kampala, which you can read here. 

More bodas coming soon.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Uganda's bodabodas are taking style inspiration from each other, and they're on fire.

Sizzling... Kampala driver Donozio Twesigye on William Street in town yesterday.

At least if drivers Hassan Guma,  27, and Donozio Twesigye, 26, are anything to go by. I've snapped the pair, from Gulu and Kampala respectively, wearing very similar shirts in the past month.

Rider Hassan Guma in Gulu in December.

Too hot.

Channeling each other's style.

Meanwhile, there's more breaking boda news: my original driver William has a new bike.

Prince Wills' new wheels.

My favorite chauffeur proudly picked me up on his new wheels, which set him back 2.9 million Ugandan shillings ($1,066 USD), on Sunday.

In the old days.

Mum wasn't too impressed by his last bike, which featured a ripped leather seat, regular reader(s) of this blog will recall (actually Mum may be the only reader of this blog). So she'll be happy with this latest development. She'll also be happy to see that William was still wearing his kangaroo hat she brought him from Down Under in September.

On Sunday. The sunnies must always go over cap for maximum coolness.

He's not the only Ugandan who now owns a little piece of Australia (er, probably China).

My watchman John was also the recipient of a hat, and requested I take this pic of him wearing it yesterday. 

The man who keeps our house safe, watchman John.

For sale in Uganda: Cricket Australia.

And while we're on the topic of Australian memorabilia, remember the Cricket Australia had being sold at Kabaka's palace during Uganda's Golden Jubilee celebrations that I snapped up? Well it now has a new home and owner in South Africa. Yes that's right, I gave it to my friend Phil as a Christmas present. He was most pleased.

But Australian cricket (well at least Australian beach cricket, along with XXX GOLD) are still getting a good plug in Uganda, as I discovered yesterday after meeting this bloke below on the side of the road while on a matatu (taxi) ride to Luweero. He kindly posed for me, after I told him I was Australian.

If we go a bit closer it's... XXXX GOLD in Uganda.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Two drinks. A hot choc & a glass of red. Guess which one the boda driver had?

Who knocked back what?
You may be surprised, but it seems that boda riders, Uganda's battle-hardened motorbike taxi boys, are actually partial to a glass of red every now and then. Well, at least if James is anything to go by. I met the 27-year-old driver of five years today outside his stage near Oasis Mall and he took me to Cafe Kawa, next to The Wine Garage at Muyenga, where we had a drink. (Okay, so his first choice was a Club, he spoke two other languages that weren't English and it's quite likely he had no idea what was going on, but he didn't say no when asked by Cafe Kawa waiter Paul if he wanted a vino).

A new year, a new boda. Move over man-bag. If you think that was stylish, this chariot's got a (presumably faux, but you never know, he's had a good year he says) Louis Vuitton purse that he ties to his belt on a chain. Over our drinks I asked James what the festive season had been like in Uganda. (Thanks to Paul from for translating. Oh, and hello to one of my readers Nigel Ball - I thought I saw you at Kawa but apparently it was your doppelgänger).

James enjoying his drink at Cafe Kawa, next to the Wine Garage at Muyenga.
Do boda drivers normally drink wine?

Paul (adding his own comment): Of course, that one is automatic!

James: Once in a while I can take sweet wine. I take also beer but on the weekend when I'm relaxing.

On the road. Ummn, helmet ploise!

Did you work over Christmas?

Mzungus (foreigners - James' bread and butter) normally go home and take a long time with their mum and dad, so I went to my village Rukungira (western Uganda). 
I've just come back from holiday there. 

I hadn't been home for six months. My parents were waiting for me because I'm the one who's financially stable. So when I reached there I bought clothes for my mum, my siblings and my dad as presents.

I went by bus and left the bodaboda this side (in Kampala). I wasn't working during that period. I was just there for celebrations.

Fake LV from local Owino markets for 20,000 UGX ($7.38 USD).

Do you like driving bodas?

I like it because I get food, rent, everything. It's my source of income.

Nike's from local Owino market, which cost 20,000 UGX.

Why are you wearing a beanie, despite it being so muggy?

It's not fashion. One reason is because the dust won't enter. 
At times of driving without it I can get a headache. I don't get hot wearing it. I'm used to it. It cost 5,000 Ugandan shillings ($1.85 USD) from Owino market.

The ubiquitous Uganda flag wristband. V patriotic.

We're early into the new year. Are you getting a lot of customers?

Compared to the Christmas season where people were going back to their home and their countries, it's good. Now  people are working normally.

What are your hopes for 2013?

First of all I've started building a house in the village. It's not yet accomplished so I'm expecting by the end of this year it will be.

Secondly, if God's willing, I will marry and start having children.

A family out and about on a boda in downtown Kampala today. You can't see it, but there's also a baby onboard!
My first boda of the day was a golden oldie, Dennis, from the cottage next door to our house (post on him coming soon but see pic below). He was very concerned that in the shot below he's wearing the same orange jacket that he was sporting in the previous pic I'd taken of him (yet to be published), so just to assure readers Dennis has a varied wardrobe and wouldn't dream of stepping out in the same outfit two days in a row.

Dazzling Dennis.

Nice shirt. But what's the meaning?

He was followed by Albert, 30, a newbie, who I picked up off Kira Road at Kamwokya and was wearing a red baseball cap and an interesting shirt button-up shirt that said FASHION COMFORT my name is gao whats.

Meet Albert, a new driver.
Then there was a favorite, Julian, whose main accessory is rosary beads. He took me to Munyonyo. When I hailed him, Julian was hanging out with some other regulars, including Frank. One driver I didn't know, Henry, was dressed in a black leather bomber jacket and carrying a pair of pliers (presumably he had mechanical problems).

Julian, a regular driver, loves saying his Hail Marys.

From left to right: Unknown, Henry and Frank.

Playing around with some pliers and managing to look so stylish at the same time. Now that's multi-tasking.

Oh, and for anyone who wonders whether James got me home safely (MUM!), he did.
I even stopped at the shops on the way home. I'm pleased to note that in 2013 there's still some great bargains to be found on the dusty Ugandan roadside, including this Australian-inspired green and yellow number below.

Should I buy the green and gold outfit and fly the flag for Down Under in Africa? Yes??