Sunday, 26 May 2013

Angelina is so yesterday. Meet my new girl crush, Keddy (aka Steady Keddy), one of Uganda's only female boda drivers.

And there she was. Keddy and yours truly outside The Coffee Hut in Gulu.
I'd just about given up on tracking down one of Gulu's elusive female boda drivers when there she was right before my eyes: Keddy Olanya, a 32-year-old rider who is a teacher by trade but moonlights as a motorcycle taxi on weekends and school holidays to make more money. I couldn't believe it. I'd had a source (aka my mate Will) scouring the northern town for a couple of months. He'd come up with one, but I'd been informed by him the day before arriving in Gulu that she was now on maternity leave. I was on the way back to my hotel from The Coffee Hut, haunt of many mzungus and MONGOS, having resigned myself to the fact that I was going to board The Post Bus the next day and go back to Kampala without having met a female boda, when Keddy drove past on her TVS heady duty bike wearing a black and white angle-length frock. It had to be, no correction it was, fate. I practically abducted her (sorry for the connotations, but there's no other way to describe this) and took her back to The Coffee Hut to get her story.

You never know what will appear on the side of the road going to Gulu on The Post Bus.

It's not known exactly how many female boda drivers there are in Uganda, but it's thoughts there's only a handful, if that. The Daily Monitor recently carried a story on 48-year-old mother of six, Matilda Igama (Bodaboda Baby wonders if she's part Australian), a rider in Madi sub-region who recently clocked two years on the bike. Breathtaking.  The Monitor has previously reported on other women drivers.

Keddy told me she'd been a teacher for one year in Lukome village when she realised she could make more money by taking on the boda driving gig. This was five years ago.

“(It’s) not for fun. I’m doing (it) to raise money because you know the pay for teachers in Uganda is not enough to cater for all your needs,” said the mother of three who could ride a bicycle before she bought her bike for three million shillings ($1,154 USD).

“Also my husband, also a teacher, doesn’t earn a lot.”

As a teacher Keddy claims she earns about 360,000 UGX ($138) a month. Driving a boda however she can take home up to 50,000 UGX ($20) a day.

Keddy is part of a growing trend of teachers moonlighting as boda drivers to make ends meet, according to a recent Daily Monitor story.

Thanks to The Coffee Hut, haunt of mzungus and MONGOS (but also Ugandans), for their help with the pics for this post, and thanks also to my mate Will.

But being one of only a handful of female drivers negotiating Uganda's potholed roads is swings and roundabouts, as she revealed to me. Her gender can work for her, but also against her.

“Actually a female boda makes more money than the male boda,” admitted Keddy, adding the majority of her passengers are women and children.
“In most cases they (potential passengers) trust female bodas more than men because of the way they drive. We are not so fast.”

The nasty stares and comments from some male drivers when Keddy’s on the road or at her stage, where drivers wait for customers, are probably to be expected.

“Sometimes they can just say this job is fit for women who are not married, (that) I’m too gentle for the job, (that) I’m stepping too low,” described Keddy.

As one of the only women working in Uganda's predominantly male boda industry, it's swings and roundabouts for Keddy.

On the other hand, she must often deal with attempted breaches of the client-customer relationship.

“Always when you’re carrying the men some are flattering you, some of them (make comments about) making love,” said Keddy.

“Some of them want to offer you more money than what you’ve charged. Taking advantage. You have to be principled.

“There are some jobs that require principles. Especially the work of a boda. It’s not easy.”
Despite her part-time gig Keddy told me she wore dresses and skirts a lot of the time.

Having spent years in the classroom dealing with stubborn students, Keddy insists she knows how “not to get customers annoyed”.

“You just talk softly but you have to stand your ground,” she explained.

It’s the ridicule from members of the same sex which is perhaps the most hurtful and frustrating.

“Some of them admire me. But some say I better look for other options, like maybe doing (a) business,” said Keddy.

“They just have that opinion that (the) boda’s not for women, it’s only supposed to be for men and (not for) professional women like me, a salary earner.”

“They think that anyone involved in boda riding is a useless person.”

Keddy is adamant she’s anything but that – and says she's not giving up her second gig anytime soon.

“I would like to encourage people to take up any form of work that they can do to earn themselves a living, without considering gender.  Nowadays we are moving into a world of what? Of equality,” she stressed.

“Women are advocating for equality.  We should not say that this is for male, this is for female. Just anything that can earn you a living, please do it, other than despising some other job.”
Keddy carrying some very precious cargo. Btw, if you look closely on my left leg you can see the scars from my first boda accident.

At the end of our chat Keddy dropped me off at my hotel. It was only a two minute ride and as she'd explained to me earlier most of the time the fare in Gulu only comes to 1,000 UGX. Which made me wonder when I later saw a "low cost" boda stage how much you'd end up paying? Next to nothing? Although as a friend also pointed out, it might be "low cost" but "stuff happens" (see pic below).

Gulu's "low cost" boda stage, where "stuff happens". Unfortunately Bodaboda Baby didn't stick around long enough to find out how much a fare is, or what this "stuff" entails.

Although it was only a two-minute trip with her, Keddy was such a safe driver that I've dubbed her Steady Keddy, also in a nod towards Australian comedian Steddy Eddie. (And yes, some of you will note that I did throw my boda helmet rule out the window, but it's not every day you meet a lady driver is it?)

By the end of the journey, I had a new girl crush. Angelina was so yesterday. I also had a new friend for life. Keddy gave me her number. I'm back in Kampala now but have phoned her five times and counting. She has promised to come here to see me, but not on a boda.

Gulu loves Obama but he won't be visiting.

Returning to the subjects of motorbike riders and Oz before I end this post, The Sydney Morning Herald published this story on the weekend about Australia's First Bloke, Tim Mathieson, buying a a bush block on the banks of the Goulburn River near Jamieson, in north-east Victoria. Bodaboda Baby couldn't help but notice the former hairdresser's wheels and is wondering should he be heading to the Ug bush instead? Possibly. But one friend joked, "don't let him get at your hair". 
The Alulululu Pork Roasting Joint (have I put enough 'lu's in this?) One of the highlights of Gulu town. 

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