Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kampala by Boda Boda

Back in Texas there is an instructor in my department, John, who is by far my favorite person on faculty.  I don’t spend very much time with him because we have different jobs which keep both of us very busy, but I always enjoy and look forward to our occasional conversations.  He is probably the most proper person I’ve ever met, and after six years I don’t believe he has ever called me by my first name; he always addresses me as Dr. Phelan.  Given his dedication to good manners and etiquette, I was surprised to find out he and his wife are avid bikers, as in motorcycles.  This revelation proved to me that Hollywood’s portrayal of certain social groups really does promote inaccurate stereotypes.

Over the last couple of years John has delicately, but consistently, encouraged me to purchase a bike.  I had never been on a motorcycle before, so he offered to take me out for a ride along with his wife one afternoon.  Though I was initially nervous and holding on for dear life, after a short time I became comfortable and really enjoyed the experience.
Last weekend while I was in Kampala I wanted play tourist.  The problem with many African cities (Gaborone would be an exception to the rule) is that they are highly populated, there aren’t enough roads to accommodate the vehicles and there are few, if any, working traffic lights or rules of the road.  This means that it could easily take two hours to travel 5 miles due to congestion.  I didn’t want to waste my one and only free day in Kampala stuck in traffic, particularly since it was a Saturday and the sights I was interested in seeing where on opposing ends of the city.

I had been observing the boda bodas, which are the motorcycle taxis, with hesitation all week.  I had read that five people die each day in boda boda accidents in Kampala, and seeing them weaving in and out of traffic made me a bit nervous.  I didn’t want to be the muzungu (white person) killed in a boda boda accident.
Fortunately I was able to marry my desire to play tourist and take a boda boda ride.  Enter Ricky’s Boda Boda Tours.  Ricky probably has the most brilliant business plan I’ve seen yet in Africa.  All the foreigners who come visit want to do tours, but don’t want to get stuck in traffic.  They also want to try out the boda bodas, but because of all the bad press, they tend to shy away from them.  Ricky has a team of boda boda drivers who double as tour guides.  They drive slightly larger and safer motorcycles, provide their customers with helmets (and the drivers wear helmets too which you never see with normal boda bodas), they can safely zip through traffic quickly, and they know everything there is to know about the city.  I was lucky enough to ride with Ricky himself on a private tour and loved it!

This picture doesn’t really portray the amount of traffic in Kampala, but at least here you can see what the boda bodas look like, and there are thousands of them all over the city:
On my tour I was taken to the Palace of the King of the Buganda, the Baha’i temple, one of the markets, and the National Mosque (on Gaddafi Road) which was donated by… you guessed it, Gaddafi.  The Gaddafi National Mosque was huge as you can see here:
And here I am wearing the required attire.  Everyone who knows me is aware I am perpetually freezing; I did NOT have that problem with this outfit.  I was sweating like crazy:
The reason Ricky took me to the mosque was because it has the best view of Kampala.  There are seven hills surrounding Kampala and you could see all of them and the various neighborhoods from the mosque.  Here is one shot of Kampala and the traffic below:

In the 1960s Queen Elizabeth gave the King 10 luxury cars, including a Bentley and a Rolls Royce.  The cars are all rusted out, but they are still on the front lawn of the palace as a reminder of the good old days.  However, the palace grounds also play host to some less than favorable memories.  Idi Amin had his torture chambers underground and we saw those as well.  Here is the Palace of the King of Buganda (Buganda is a large territory within the country; about half the landmass of Uganda belongs to the Buganda kingdom.):

I really enjoyed my boda boda tour.  Ricky really knew his stuff, which I appreciated, so I definitely learned a lot.  And of course, I got to ride a boda boda without being scared to death.  I’m not sure whether I will be ready to purchase my own ride when I return to Texas, but it’s not totally out of the question.


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