The city of Kampala is a dynamic urban center that is home for millions of Africans. It has a certain vibe to it and throughout our trip I noticed that the energy level of the city kept increasing as the day progressed; at 11 PM in the evening the streets were filled with the buzz of both people and vehicles.
The narrow, dusty roads of Kampala are maxed out with cars, taxis (mini vans that carry 15-20 people) and thousands of boda-bodas. Now I am sure you are asking the question, “what’s a boda-boda?” The boda-boda are a significant part of the East African culture; they started in the 1960s and 1970s and the name originated from a need to transport people across the “no-man’s-land” between the border posts without the paperwork involved with using motor vehicles crossing the international border. The practice started in the southern border crossing town of Busia (Kenya/Uganda), where there is over half a mile between the gates, and quickly spread to the northern border town of Malaba (Kenya). The bicycle owners would shout out “boda-boda” (border-to-border) to potential customers.
Today in Kampala, bicycles have given way to motorcycles – lots of them. And it quickly became clear to me that the best way to see the city would be from the back of a boda-boda. Note I mentioned it would be the best way to see the city and certainly not the safest! In my pre-trip preparations, I discovered that the leading cause of death among American tourists is traffic accidents. And within the first hour of our arrival in Kampala we heard the awful thud and witnessed a car taking down a boda-boda, driver and passenger included.
Even with that image burned into my memory banks, I desperately wanted to give a boda-boda a go. And so imagine my delight when near the end of my trip I discovered that one of the worship leaders at the Nakawa Pentecostal Church was a boda-boda driver. I thought to myself, “if you can’t trust a worship leader/boda-boda driver, who can you trust?” And with that thought in mind I jumped on the back of Godfry’s boda-boda who skillfully led me on a most remarkable boda-boda ride through the streets of Kampala. Godfry showed me the beauty of the city, the diversity of the neighborhoods and the sights, sounds and smells of the city provided sensory overload at its best! The ride included a visit to his home where I had the honor of meeting his wife and offering a prayer of blessing over their home, along with a stop at the site of the July 2010 bombing that killed over 80 people (Uganda’s 9/11). There I had the amazing privilege to spend time with one of the employees of the rugby club who was present when the bombs went off. Hearing her account of the terrorist attack, standing on the very ground where blood was shed and seeing the remaining evidence of the destructive force of the bombs was an experience I will never forget.
Take a quick look:
I may never ride on another motorcycle in my life, but I am deeply grateful for my boda-boda view of Kampala.