It’s been some time since I’ve written (like months), and I was working on a newsletter and thought I should mention driving here (since I’ve asked for prayer for this specifically). As I wrote, the words came tumbling out and I thought “Man, I should put this in a blog!” So here it is…all about driving in Kampala…
“It’s a battle of inches…Just get your nose out there… They’ll stop for you…” This is the mindset Joel tells me I need to have when driving in Kampala; but to be honest, I struggle when the traffic is heavy here (which is a lot of the time). It’s rude to push my way in. I smile sweetly and wave a “thank you” as often as I can. I don’t know if other drivers appreciate my attempt to be polite or if they even see it as that. This is definitely not the way I was taught to drive when I took drivers ed. a loooong time ago.
I don’t have pictures of the “jam” – I’m not comfortable taking pictures that close up…
Imagine if you will, driving down a road with irregular edges. On the left hand side (which is the side I drive on) there is the occasional pedestrian trying to go somewhere. The road is really for everyone so they want to walk on the road on which I’m driving…which is truly okay because on most of the roads near our home, there is no other place to walk…when I walk, I do it just like they do. Also on the sides of the road, there are deep trenches for rain water. I guess they’re about 2- 4 feet deep in most places. These are hugely helpful when the rains come, but I have this fear that one day I’ll need to call Joel and say, “it finally happened…I fell off into a ditch…thankfully there were 5-6 strong men around who for a minimal fee were able to help me out…the car makes a funny sound but it’s moving along slowly by slowly…I’ll be home in a bit”
So…I’ve mentioned pedestrians and trenches. There are also the random bicycle riders. They are typically caring either another person, long (like 9-10 feet) pieces of sugar cane, large bunches of bananas, or long pieces of metal pipes. Rarely do they carry just themselves or something that would fit safely on a bike. They do their best to stick to the side of the road, but any bump to them can easily tip them into the trench. I slow down for bike riders. They’re doing the best they can with what they have. I admire their hard work. (It’s so hard to get the pictures I want, but this gives you a bit of an idea – even though this guy is walking his bike.)
Then the matatus or taxis…these are 15 passenger vans that can truly hold an almost unlimited amount of people. They are truly ALL over Kampala (and across Uganda). They are the cheapest means of transportation in the city so they are always seeking to make as much money as possible by loading their vans with as many people as possible. If the van isn’t full, they wait patiently for more to come. There are two important people in a matatu…the driver and the conductor. The driver goes along his route as he sees fit. He will stop on a dime if he thinks someone might want a ride. He is gifted in getting within inches (and I’m not exaggerating) of the cars around him. It’s impressive and scary and frustrating when he is willing for the inches to be centimeters and then millimeters and then gently rub against your car’s side and/or bumper in his effort to keep moving. The conductor is the man who collects the money and recruits new passengers. I use the word “recruit” because I’ve watched them coax and grab at people to try to get them onto their van. Often times you can see the innocent passerby is forced to pull themself away explaining they don’t need to go that direction. The conductor needs to be somewhat pushy to make money…I can’t blame these taxis for doing their best to eek out a living in a city full of other’s doing the same, but they sure don’t make driving easy for single passenger cars like me. (You can see a picture of a taxi on the right side of the road in the second picture)
I’ve saved the most draining, and perhaps famous, for last…you can google the word “boda-boda” to see pictures of bodas carrying almost anything you can imagine. A boda-boda is a motorcycle taxi. They often carry people but it’s not uncommon to see them carry eggs, a mound of plastic jugs of varying sizes, small animals (like chickens and goats), raw meat, furniture…if you need something odd carried and it’s not bigger than a 6 foot book shelf or longer than a 9 foot pole, call for a boda! The sheer numbers of bodas around Kampala is dizzying. They’re almost everywhere (and I’m still not exaggerating). (this is a nicer road, even though it is quite narrow) In theory the concept is good…they use less fuel and are easily maintained. My issue (and the issue for many people) is the lack of rules they are required to follow. If it’s a one-way road, the bodas can go the opposite way. If all drivers are stopped for construction or a red light, the boda is still able to go. They zip in and out of traffic, flowing like water down a rocky hill. They go wherever they imagine they can fit. They often scrape their handle bars alongside a car without looking back or offering a word of apology. Many times the passenger will indicate the need to turn across traffic when the driver doesn’t. Again, I can’t blame them for wanting to make a living, and I’ve met a few very conscientious drivers. But for the most part, bodas cause the most grief and worry when I’m driving. I look forward to the time I get to drive out in the Texas panhandle again…oh to have wide roads, few cars, no bodas, and country music on the radio….
But I do want to say that not all roads are bad in Kampala. You can see that some of these pictures have smooth roads. There are some less traveled roads that we get to travel regularly and for which I’m exceedingly grateful! I really shouldn’t complain…it’s just that I’m made for heaven where the roads are made of gold and I’m pretty sure there are no bodas!