There is only one way to get around Kampala: boda-bodas, the motorbike taxis. (So named because they originally took goods back and forth across the border. ‘border-border’ became ‘boda-boda’.) They’re unlicensed, no one has a helmet, and the drivers are sometimes drunk – but they’re cheap and they get you where you want to go quicker than a taxi.
There is no gap too small for a boda-boda to squeeze through, no cul-de-sac he can’t get out of. He will happily mount the pavement or drive on the wrong side of the road if it will get you to your destination a few seconds earlier.
Only once did I feel at risk. We were coming back from a football match at the Mandela stadium along a dual carriageway. A police motorbike sped past, siren blaring, escorting the Ugandan national team back to their hotel. George, my driver, decided he would follow. We weaved in and out of traffic at high speed, narrowly avoiding a collision with a minivan and a truck. George didn’t get a tip.
My favourite driver was Charles. He high-fived passing traffic cops and occasionally slowed down to say ‘hello’ to pretty girls. He also came up with the best excuse for getting lost. I’d told him the name of the hotel I was staying at before I got on. “Ah yes,” he exclaimed, “I can take you there.” Great, I thought, he knows where it is. After driving for about five minutes he half-turns in his seat. “So where is it?” he asked. “You don’t know?” I replied, incredulous, angry, yet also aware that I was stuck on the back of his bike now and couldn’t really do much to change the situation.
“You told me you knew where it was,” I said.
“No,” he responded. “I said I could take you there. I did not say I knew where it was.”
I couldn’t really argue with that.
This is after a particularly hairy section of the ride home with George. He’s clearly enjoying it. Me, less so. Frederic Courbet is the guy with the camera.