Boda-bodas, Uganda’s infamous motorcycle taxis, are both fascinating and scary. At every landmark, major intersection, and taxi park you’ll find hordes of men with motorcycles (of questionable roadworthiness) eager to drive you anywhere at low-cost and high-speed. They’re an effective way to transport people and things – all kinds of things – from place to place. But they can also be a bit hazardous, and there are some unappealing stereotypes surrounding boda-boda drivers.
The danger factor, combined with my general fear of speed, has kept me from riding on a boda for the past couple of weeks. However, yesterday my host-father unknowingly forced me to face my fears by asking a boda driver-cum-translator to take me around the village to interview farmers. I took my time digging my helmet out from under my bed, collecting my notebooks and greeting the driver, but eventually pride and practicality won out. It was time to beat my nerves into submission and get on with my job. I put my helmet on (wishing that I could also don a full suit of hockey equipment), took a deep breath and slid onto the boda. I prayed that my host-father had a preference for sensible drivers.
The driver must have noticed how tense I was, because he drove veeeery slowly for the first couple of kilometers. Gradually, I grew more comfortable and started to enjoy the incredible views of lush farms and rolling hills. The boda began to speed up to a normal driving speed and I was feeling okay… until I noticed The Hill of Impending Doom, covered in Potholes of Certain Death. I knew that we would have to accelerate to reach the top, so I clung to the back of the seat and hoped that we wouldn’t end up looking like smooshed papaya on the side of the road. With every bump my heart jumped and I clung to the seat with white knuckles. My adrenaline was racing as we reached the top.
Fortunately, the next minute we turned a corner and parked in the driveway of a farm. We were greeted by a lovely old lady wearing a purple gomez and a huge smile. She showed us her many pigs and adorable piglets, her bio-gas reactor, and her magnificent trellises covered in passionfruit. I didn’t get all the information I had wanted, but by the end of the visit I had calmed down enough to get back on the motorcycle. With each farm visit, it became easier and easier to get back on the boda, and by the time we returned home I was relaxed enough to enjoy the sunset.
I’m still nervous about boda-bodas, but at least I know there’s one driver that I can rely on to keep me safe(ish). I’ve been learning every day since arriving in Uganda that my fears often create expectations that are worse than the danger itself. Unless we push ourselves to face the things that intimidate us, we will forever limit our own growth and ability to do good work.