Since we arrived in Uganda, one of the things we’ve had to learn the most quickly is how to get around. We can walk to get fruit, to our local shop and to the gym/pool we have joined nearby but Kampala is a big city so for almost everything else, we need more help than our two legs. At home, I have a car or can jump on a bus or metro without really thinking about it, and the majority of the time without being concerned for my safety. But here things are a bit different….
Most Ugandans get round the city using Boda Bodas. These are motorbikes with a passenger sat on the back that weave in and out of traffic to get to where they need to be in the shortest possible time, whoever that might involve cutting up or pulling out in front of along the way. It is amazing what people are able to carry on the back of a bike in theory while the driver can still see; so far we’ve seen chickens, a fridge and a set of deckchairs! The majority of passengers don’t wear helmets despite the fast speeds they can travel at. Accidents on these are very common and working in the hospital means we are particularly aware of this; we have already heard of several adults or children who have broken bones or worse through Boda accidents. So needless to say, we are avoiding these wherever possible (a luxury that many don’t have as they are the cheapest way to get around). There has been a great new initiative called ‘SafeBoda’ where you can use an app like Uber to order a Boda, both driver and passenger have a helmet, and the drivers are given additional training so this seems to making things safer. Being a Boda driver is also predominantly done by men, but we recently read a Guardian article about the first female Ugandan Boda driver and the opposition she faced (I’ll share the link at the end of the post) so we’ll be looking out for her over the next few months!
We did made an exception through doing a Boda tour of Kampala at the weekend! This was with a really good local company who looked after us and kept us safe the whole day, and was a great way to see the city when the roads are less busy than a weekday rush hour. Matatus (or taxis) are also common here. These are minibuses that pack as many people in as possible and have similar driving etiquette to most Boda drivers! Our tour took us to the “organised chaos” which is the main hub for picking these up (see below). Uber also now exists in Kampala so has given us another option to get around, although the driver and number plate don’t necessarily match what the app says meaning it can be a strange game of finding your car by seeing who is shouting “Kety” out of their car window!
Needless to say, we are very grateful to have access to a car while we are here. Having said that, navigating Kampala traffic has been a steep learning curve. Many people we meet (Ugandans and others) seem very surprised we are even attempting to drive here – apparently most don’t until they’ve been here for years. But one of the hospitals we work at is the other side of the city so it made sense for commuting. My Nan taught our family the motto “If you’ve got a job to do, do it now! If it’s one you wish were through, do it now!” (apparently there’s a whole poem!) so we decided best to just start and have been driving from our first day here. The main rule seems to be…..there are no rules! Red lights often aren’t followed but are especially ignored if the police are standing in the middle of the junction waving/shouting/gesturing at you. You can’t wait for a gap in traffic; you have to just pull out. But don’t mess with the Matatus! We often laugh at how you’d do a driving theory course here because the hazards are every few seconds. It helps a lot when we are driving together because you have a second person to shout “Bike!”, “Watch that cow, they’re not tied up and are wandering in the road”, “is there two lanes here today or three?” or my favourite “are those Bodas all driving towards us on our side of the road?!” But we are getting better, managing to navigate with Google maps without ending up in a ditch yet, and have some cracking playlists to motivate our Monday mornings or Friday drive homes – any suggestions to add on are welcome 🙂
Article about female Boda drivers if anyone wants a read: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/mar/25/my-husband-refused-to-teach-me-the-taxi-bike-rider-breaking-ugandas-taboos