Sunday, 31 March 2013

Inevitable. My first boda accident in Uganda (yes, this is a first person piece, Mum. Please look away now).

This is a good look. The author of this blog on a boda, pre-accident, on a bike which had a Harper's Bazaar print on the seat, and was clearly made for her. Photo by Onyait Odeke.

It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. On Tuesday morning I had my first boda accident. I say first, because let's be honest, there could very well be more. Oh, and one important fact to note: I was on a boda. I wasn’t walking and hit by a boda, which was the case in Hoima last year. Nor was I accidentally pulling a friend down on top of me, much to the amusement of Ugandan onlookers, while trying to get on a stationary bike on the side of the road at Bugolobi, which preceded the western Ugandan incident. This was a bona fide booty-on-boda (BOB) accident. But I'm pleased to report I got off lucky. It could have been so much worse. 

Yes I know, it was all going so well and I’d been reassured by Nigel that a mzungu (foreigner) can survive five years in Uganda without a scrape. But on Monday morning as I was coming back from speaking to my friend Peter about another child sacrifice case, awful beyond belief, in Kisaasi (home to The Big Chicken aka The Satellite Hotel) I asked my random driver to stop on the side of the road to look at (what else) a ra ra dress (remember the ra ra skirt from the 80s?) with a GREEN bottom. Could things have been different if I hadn’t stopped to look at this frock, which I didn't end up buying? Possibly. Was this dress also something you shouldn't be seen dead in? Possibly. (Btw, I spotted the same dress in a roadside shop in Kabalagala yesterday. It's a generic number, so can't have that. Sigh).

This is not (not) a good look. A limb belonging to the author of this blog five days after her boda accident.

Anyway onto the story. My driver had left the makeshift boutique and was taking me back into town. I can't estimate how fast he was going, but he wasn't speeding. As we approached Kira Road, not far from the Uganda Museum a woman (Ugandan) ran out RIGHT IN FRONT of the boda. Now to be honest, I have run out in front of cars and bodas on the road. To be honest, life can pass you by as you try to cross the road in Kampala, if you sometimes don't. But do give yourself enough time to make it. This woman ran out RIGHT RIGHT IN FRONT of the bike, giving the rider no time to brake at all. In fact when I recalled the incident to a good friend later she remarked, “It must have been like watching a suicide”. It was indeed. There was nothing the driver could do. Before I knew it, all three of us were lying on the side of the road.

The ra ra dress I stopped to look at on the side of the road after leaving Kisaasi. While shopping didn't cause my accident, how different things might have been had I not stopped to peruse this. 

I looked up and all I could see were black faces staring down at me. Some details are blurry, but I seem to recall that we'd landed on the grass (thank God) and I was on top of the driver. My left leg was tangled up with the rider's, whose bike was totally smashed, and I had several cuts from the knee downwards and on my right wrist, plus a lot of gravel stuck on my knee. There was blood on the ground from the rider. He was bleeding from his chest and nose, a lot worse than me. Meanwhile I could see the pedestrian lying up ahead closer to the road than us and I was absolutely certain she was dead.

The Big Chicken. This really should be in Australia.

To be honest I had no idea what to do. I had never been in a road accident or witnessed a road accident. I knew I wasn’t dying, but I also knew I should get to hospital or The Surgery to get my injuries checked out, and take the other two with me, so I untangled my leg and got up.  I knew it was up to me to get myself to hospital. I hadn't seen ambulances in Uganda very often. I do remember seeing one coming back from The Goat Races with my parents last year - it ended up running out of petrol. But even if there were more ambulances around I didn’t have a number and how long would it take to get there in Kampala's chaotic traffic? And also where exactly were we? Who should I call to come and get us? One of my best friends Rob, who would probably be the best person to have around in an emergency as he's calm and practical and quite knowledgeable of Kampala’s hospitals (oh and has a car), had just left the country. Should I call another friend at work? One regular taxi driver, Carlos, had just had his car taken back by the owner, so he was no good. Ironically, wouldn’t the quickest way to get to hospital after a boda accident be a boda?
So I got up and walked onto the road and got my phone out of my bag. The crowd of people who’d gathered around me told me to sit down, but to be honest they seemed to be doing absolutely nothing apart from gawking at me, saying, “mzungu, mzungu”. Sorry, but even now this is a bit of a sore point, so to speak. Please, if you ever come across a traffic accident, do not mill and gawk at the victims.

Now standing on the road I was very dizzy and felt like I was going to pass out, even if just from the shock of being in a road accident and seeing so much blood (I am the sort of person who has to be sedated having a blood test or needle). I quickly phoned another regular taxi driver Jeff* and he said he’d come to get me asap (thank God he was released from jail last year otherwise I wouldn't have been phoning him, but that's another story).

A few people by now were telling me “sit down mzungu” and trying to force me onto the ground which was really pissing me off, especially when they didn’t seem to be doing anything to help, and I actually started yelling at them “I want to go to the hospital”. I searched for Jeff’s number in my phone and handed it to a man, asking him if he could please double check with my driver that he was on his way to the right location.

Two male traffic officers wearing white uniforms and black berets finally showed up. “This is a police case,” they said after walking over to me and handing me a bit of scrap paper which they asked me to write my name and phone number on. They asked me what happened and I told them that I’d been a passenger, that a woman had jumped out in front of the boda with no time for him to stop and that she’d been hit. It wasn't the driver's fault at all. They asked me where I lived. 

A few minutes before my taxi arrived the police walked me over to a ute, driven by security guards, and told me to get into it along with the driver, who was still bleeding quite heavily. I got the shock of my life when I saw the woman who’d been hit get up off the ground and into the vehicle. To be honest though, I felt more sorry for the driver, as I watched his bike being towed away on the back of a truck. He most likely has no form of income, after this. 

My boda helmet is now one my number one accessory. Photo courtesy of Walter's Boda's Kampala.

The police told me we were going to Mulago Hospital. I told them I had a driver coming to get me but they wouldn’t let me wait. I’d read before in the local press that the majority of boda victims end up in Mulago. In fact a story in one of the local papers which was published recently reported that boda accidents contributed 41 per cent of all trauma patients at the hospital. 

According to this recent NTV Uganda story, boda boda injuries take up 62.5
per cent of the budget allocation for the directorate of surgery at Kampala's Mulago Hospital.

When we walked into the reception at Mulago they said it would be a bit of a wait. As I'm an impatient mzungu (I’m aware of this) who is fortunate enough to be in a financial position to go to The Surgery and also have travel insurance (I’m aware I am lucky) I decided to get Jeff to take me there instead. Secretly though, I also wanted to finally meet the famous Dr Stockley, a British doctor who had a cameo in Last King of Scotland as a Times Journalist reporting on the disappearances of several of Amin’s opponents. I'd heard other expats speak of him, but hadn't met him yet thanks to (touch wood) my good health.

Dr Stockley told me that I would be fine, adding that it was a good thing that I’d been wearing a helmet. "You're going to be stiff tomorrow," he said. "But just remember if it ain't broken now it ain't broken tomorrow." I didn’t want to actually tell him that I hadn’t been wearing a helmet for a few months last year, after losing one. Ironically it was only after bumping into a friend Liam, right after he’d had a boda accident, at Garden City, on his way back home after buying a helmet, that I’d been warned to buy new headgear.

After the lovely nurses at The Surgery covered my leg in iodine and bandaged my wrist up (I was a bit shaken up and teary), I went to Mish Mash for lunch. “The first thing that comes to mind is a boda accident,” said one of the waiters as soon as he saw my leg. You don’t say, Sherlock.

The lovely Mirinda Girls at Garden City this week.

For the past couple of days (I stayed home the first day after my accident) I have felt like Iodine Woman walking around the mall, with lots of strangers saying “sorry, sorry” or "mzungu, what happened?" as soon as they see me. Uganda really is the loveliest place on earth. Probably only the Mirinda Girls who I met yesterday handing out free samples of the new apple flavoured drink have grabbed more attention. Maybe I should hand out free samples of iodine, since I’m currently a walking advertisement for it.

Did you ever know you could create such amazing effects with cotton wool? Photo by  Sorin. Read his blog post on his own boda crash at
With my original driver Prince William in better times.

On another note, I've discovered what creative things you can do with cotton wool on wounds, after coming across this post titled "My first boda boda crash" courtesy of Sorin, a Romanian traveller and blogger in Uganda. Check out his pics (or maybe not), which I discovered after researching for my own post, here. I must admit that when I was getting ready to go out last night, I did put on a body con dress in orange, thinking it would match my leg. Further research has revealed another post by another former mzungu in Uganda titled..."My first boda crash". The good news is that I haven't found a blog post titled "My second boda crash", but I don't think I'm going to do any more Googling.

This dress goes great with iodine legs.

Of the course the boda jokes have started. "I guess you guys 'boda' be more careful in future! *badoom crash* " Tweeted @Nigel_Ball (yes, the same one who survived five years in Uganda without a boda accident) earlier in the week. "This doesn't BODE very well for your future comedy career" I hit back. Mzungu blogger @CharlieBeau also got in on the act, asking "Q. what have drivers have given up for Lent? A. the ability to anticipate other road users!" Coincidentally, on the same day as my accident The Sydney Morning Herald ran this piece on where Aussie travellers are most likely to meet their end. Relieved that Uganda hasn't got any points, so far...

Thankyou to everyone who has Tweeted, emailed or phoned me, for all their kind words, especially Dr Wolfgang H Thome, who volunteered himself to give me some driving lessons in the event that I get a car (although doesn't seem to be aware of this). Am I getting a car? Not for the time being, most likely never as I fear being behind the wheel of a vehicle on the streets of Kampala more than being a passenger on a boda. Am I getting back on a boda? Yes, after I've had a week off. At the moment I'm using the very punctual Fred, a private hire, to get around and have also discovered matatus (they're a lot cheaper than bodas and nearly as quick). 

Today's hot chocolate said...Happy Easter.

To be honest this accident was probably the wake-up call I need to be more careful and (Mum, I really hope you're not reading this) to reduce my boda usage, particularly at 1.30am after a night out (Mum, I've only done this about two times). I will also now not travel anywhere, even if it's only down the road, without a helmet on and I have NO sympathy for any mzungu who doesn't wear one - it's now my number one accessory, I'm even thinking of spray painting mine - green - and is involved in an accident.

I am getting back on a boda, which I missed desperately when I visited Nairobi, where they don't have as many riders as Uganda, late last year. Even though I am really fed up with iodine pins, I don't believe that these bikes are as dangerous as the local press, local private hires and others make out. I still think that they're the best thing since sliced bread, and that Uganda would be a very different place without them. At the risk of sounding quite emotional about motorbikes, I simply cannot carry on in Uganda without bodas. In fact after Uganda, I think I will need to have some sort of boda in my life no matter where I am in the world.

A happy - and safe - Easter break all of you.




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