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Meet Paul Nsubuga my honest boda-boda friend

By Vision Reporter

Added 3rd August 2010 03:00 AM

PLEASE, meet my new friend Paul Nsubuga. He is a boda-boda cyclist who ferries passengers in and around Kampala. I met him the other day while trying to reacquaint myself with Kampala streets.

PLEASE, meet my new friend Paul Nsubuga. He is a boda-boda cyclist who ferries passengers in and around Kampala. I met him the other day while trying to reacquaint myself with Kampala streets.

Dr. Opiyo Oloya

PLEASE, meet my new friend Paul Nsubuga. He is a boda-boda cyclist who ferries passengers in and around Kampala. I met him the other day while trying to reacquaint myself with Kampala streets.

Walking the streets of Kampala today is not the same as walking the streets when I was here last year. There is a certain urgency, almost feverish in nature as everyone scramble to accomplish whatever needs to be done, and get out. The streets are mostly deserted by eight o’clock in the evening, drained of the energy it had during the day, as everyone melts away as if by magic.

In talking to people on the street since I arrived here a few days ago, the city has not been the same since the events of 7/11 when terror bombs killed many Ugandans. Kampala residents are on very high alert. One is frisked by security personnel when entering the bank, hotel, supermarket, the university, and so on. Although many are not happy with the headaches that come with the tightened security, most seemed to respect it or at least are resigned to it.

The Police, meanwhile, is doing its best to address the security concern while causing minimal disruption to people’s lives. It is a constant balancing act. In any case, the nervous energy expended during the day has turned walking on Kampala streets into tiring work because you must constantly be alert, keeping your eyes wide open, not because somebody might rob you, but because you want to be the first to take cover should anything happen.

Moreover, even as one keeps an eye out for suspicious things, one must contend with the constant menace from the irascible kamunye taxis trying to scoop each other for fares before nightfall. It is like a shark feeding frenzy, with the unwary pedestrian becoming minced meat after having been mowed down by the speeding taxis.

On the day that I met Paul Nsubuga, I had twice escaped near certain death when, out of nowhere, the kamunyes came charging at me as if I had insulted the drivers.

In one case, I gave the offending driver one of my most murderous stares to show displeasure at being threatened by his reckless driving, only to have the man respond in kind with a hybridized gesture that combined the rude one-finger salute familiar to North Americans and the dismissive brush-in-the-chin that said he could care less if I dropped dead.

Well, I did not want to die that day, and in any case, was tired of walking. I decided to find wheels, but I was damned if I was now going to enter the same kamunye that had been on my case all morning. In fact, the previous day I used a kamunye from the New Vision offices to Kampala Road.

Being the last person to be packed into the already crowded vehicle meant that I had to get out every time a passenger disembarked or when a new customer was boarding. Worst, the assistant to the driver kept muttering “Ggwe, mpa sente (Hey, give me your fare) even though I had already handed him the sh500 coin.

At last, deciding that I was better off walking, I hopped out into the hot humid day. When I ran into Paul Nsubuga, he looked young, quiet, neatly dressed, not the rough type that aggressively follow you on their bikes to see whether you will jump on the passenger seat.

Now, my friends have all warned me to stay away from the boda-boda because it is the fastest way to go to Mulago Hospital with broken hip-bones—that is if one escaped with one’s life.

I told Paul where I was going, and he said simply, “One thousand five hundred shillings.” I told him that it could not possibly be that expensive, and I would only pay one thousand shillings. He agreed to take me but insisted he would drop me off half a kilometre from my destination.

And so we took off, with Paul expertly dodging between the kamunyes and the ever present pedestrians. I kept shouting questions at him, such as whether he was ever in an accident, at which he had to turn his head in the wind to catch what I was saying, making the ride even more dangerous. I shut up.

When we got to the spot where he was going to leave me because I was only paying sh1,000, Paul kept going anyway, taking me to my destination. I gave him sh10,000 without saying a word—he held the money and called out after me to give back the change, but I kept walking.

An hour later, on my way back to mid-town, Paul was still standing there waiting for me with my change of sh9,000. Needless to say, Paul was hired on the spot to become my personal boda-boda.
In halting English, he told me he came from Luweero.

He was not sure how old he was, but his boda-boda permit indicated he is 23 years old. He only attended school up to Primary Four before dropping out because of lack of money for school fees. He has been working as a boda-boda cyclist for two years now.

On average he earns about sh25,000 per day, a bit more on a good day. He pays sh60,000 in rent, and the rest he saves. He has only been involved in a single accident when a kamunye driver—it had to be a kamunye driver—opened his door so suddenly Paul had no time to react. Luckily he was alone and was not seriously hurt.

He loves working, and feels bored when not working, he told me. And so Paul Nusbuga is now my friend—and he has so far been an excellent boda-boda driver, whisking me through Kampala traffic jam when I need to be somewhere in a hurry.

Today, he took me to Garden City where a long line of frustrated car drivers were waiting to be screened by security personnel before being allowed into the mall. Paul zipped right to the gate, and in no time I was inside doing my business. I don’t use him when I can walk, or when I am formally attired in my suit and tie.

When I told him that I was writing the article, he asked what that would mean to his business. I told him that it should be good for business. He thought for a moment then nodded that it was okay. Paul can be reached on his mobile at 0782087185.
Opiyo.oloya@sympatico.ca

Meet Paul Nsubuga my honest boda-boda friend

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