Mzungu Memoirs


We are now the proud owners of a boda-boda, which will be our mode of transportation while living here in Uganda.  The term boda-boda originates from pedal bikes with side panniers that were used to transport and smuggle goods and people from border to border.  It is now also the term used to describe motorbikes, from 50cc to 100cc.  They are two-wheeled taxis one can hire for transport that I affectionately call “the workhorse of Africa.”  I have seen boda-bodas carry everything from crates of chickens to automobile transmissions and furniture to an actual wooden coffin.

Since used bodas sell for about ¾ of the new purchase price and they are often run pretty hard around here, we opted to purchase a new one of our own.  The purchase process began with a trip downtown to the India-manufactured Bajaj dealership with Semei, our office manager.  I looked at the options for a boda and decided to go for the cheapest one, which you see all over Kampala, a 100cc Bajaj Boxer.  There were three options of features for the Boxer…red, blue and black.

With about a ¾ downpayment, I ordered a black boda the week before I left for a project trip to Burundi, knowing it would take ten business days before delivery.  The week after I returned from Burundi, I received a call from the dealership notifying me that our boda was ready.

Caleb had been quite excited to get the boda and wanted to go with us to go pick it up.  Semei, Caleb & I hired a couple of bodas to take us downtown to the dealership.  The driver Caleb & I rode with was apparently new and still learning.  On the way downtown, we sideswiped a guy on a bicycle, dodged a lorry truck, ran my knee into a car (at low speed) and smacked another boda, running us into a curb.  We eventually made it to the dealership and I was ready to have Semei drive.

The process of finalizing the purchase was interesting, utilizing visits to at least six different desks.  We first checked into one desk, that told me to go finish the payment at the cashier desk and obtain a receipt, then return.  The first desk then began preparing the paperwork, which is all transcribed by hand onto several pages.  During this process, several  of the Ugandan employees tried to talk to Caleb, who was being quite shy.  We then were transferred to another desk to process the insurance, with some more transcribing.  Then, back to the first desk for still more transcribing.  Then, they sent us to another desk to process delivery papers, get our license plate and give us one helmet before having an employee bring the boda out.  After describing maintenance and features of the boda, we were then asked to give our papers to another desk for final verification and one last hand transcription.  Rather than just drilling holes into the license plate, we decided to hand carry the plate to a Ugandan shop to have a license plate wrap made.

We took off for the shop, getting pulled over on the way by a walking police officer because our plate was not attached to the boda.  The irony of it was that we were only about a block from the shop to get the license plate taken care of.  Semei talked to the officer for several minutes, raising his voice several times.  I didn’t know what was being discussed, since they were talking in Luganda, the indigenous language of the Kampala area.  Semei finally convinced the officer to let us go.  I later asked Semei and he confirmed my thoughts that the officer was asking for a bribe.

Caleb has enjoyed sitting on our boda, pretending to be a boda driver.  A typical boda driver will sit at a boda stage, a wide spot at an intersection where they can pick up passengers.  One can also call these bodas to pick you up at home and other locations or send them to pick up goods from markets.  Caleb has been pretending to take mommy and daddy to local markets and deliver items.

He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.  Psalms 104:3

posted by Robert in Uncategorized and have Comments (5)

5 Responses to “Boda-Boda”

  1. Moses says:

    Very interesting indeed, I have bumped into your blog while looking for images of bikes in Uganda because I would like to get a bicycle bought for me from here and shipped to the UK. I wouldn’t need a car to go shopping anymore. I hope to resurect my boda-boda way of life.

  2. Charlie says:

    Hi, interesting blog. I use boda’s quite often when in Kampala and i too am looking to buy on my next assignment there. Could you give me an idea of how much you pay for a new Bajaj Boxer. Thanks

  3. kuldeep sharma says:

    your blog takes me away in period of 1997 when i ride first Bajaj bike in India. sadly these are not available in India, instead High capacity Sports & racing bikes from bajaj are available these days.
    Your kid is very beautiful & smart. Thanks to share your experience with us.

  4. Miss Hill says:

    I just wanted to let you know that when I googled, “Uganda boda boda” your picture was the first to come up in an image search. It took me by surprise.
    Miss Hill
    HIS Grade 1B

  5. james says:

    nice three seater!