BY MICHAEL HAFNER
“There’s no way we will fit.” That’s what is on your mind when you are on the backseat of a motorbike in the crowded streets of Kampala for the first time. “No way we will fit,” and you press your knees together tightly, trying to make yourself small in order to evade the seemingly unavoidable collision in the midst of the dense urban traffic. “There’s just no way we will fit.” Above the traffic hell, the marabous circle – carrion and garbage eating birds that look like aged, overweight storks with double chins.
But the predicted crash doesn’t happen – in between cars, trucks, bicycles and potholes, the motorbike drivers miraculously find a way through.
People in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, keep telling you: “If you want to cross a street, never get in front of a lorry or a Boda Boda rider. Both will never stop for you.”
That – and the rides – is what made me curious: Who are the riders who hang out all over the country, what are their stories and how come there are so many of them?
Boda Bodas are the Ugandan motorcycle taxis. In a country where there is hardly any public transportation, they are the essential lifelines. Where cars come to a standstill and the journey is too far for pedestrians and cyclists – the Boda Boda always finds a way. And there is nothing that can’t be transported by motorbike: families of four, sheep, bed frames or fifty water canisters – no problem at all.
Originally, Boda Bodas were bicycles which people used to crossed the no-man’s land between the borders of Uganda and Kenya, before cross-border buses were available. In practical African-style this service called “border to border” was abbreviated to Boda Boda, and the bicycles became motorbikes – not least because coffee and cigarette smugglers demanded faster transport across the open terrain.
Nowadays, Boda Boda riders still have the reputation of rough and reckless madmen whose riding skills will take you directly to the hospital. The Kampala city government even wanted to remove them from the city to reduce the number of accidents and ensure a modern, clean urban image, which is their main argument.
But as this would be a severe challenge for the entire local transport system, Ugandans protested – and the Boda Bodas remained on the streets.
I’ve talked to a lot of riders and passengers: “There are some inexperienced guys on the road; some switched directly from a bicycle to the motorcycle. But mostly, it’s bad roads or police harassment that causes trouble,” says Owen. He’s been riding for ten years now, and he is in the management team of an association that supervises young riders.
One of these young guys is Derrick who rides a wonderfully decorated bike with flags, plastic flowers, stickers, and metals tags with bible quotes on them. He talks with a very soft voice. “I don’t have a wife yet,” is the first thing he says. “But I’m saving money. I want to buy one of the small stores on the roadside and then give it to my fiancée…”
This is just one of the stories The Boda Boda Book is about. These are stories of personal freedom, independence and making a living in one of Africa’s megacities. Stories that come from the bottom, from where you won’t expect them. Stories that kept me hooked while traveling in Uganda.
這是當你第一次坐在坎帕拉擁擠街頭的一輛摩托車後座，腦袋裏冒出的念頭， “我們不可能擠得過去。”一邊想著，一邊狠狠並攏膝蓋，試圖縮小體積，好躲避在這稠密的城市交通中看起來無法避免的碰撞。“我們根本就不可能擠過去。” 在地獄般交通的上方, 盤旋著禿鷲們——一種吃腐肉和垃圾為生的的鳥，看上去像老邁又笨重、長著雙下巴的鸛。
但是預料中的碰撞並沒有發生——在汽車、卡車、自行車和坑坑窪窪之間, 摩托車司機奇跡般地穿過去了。在坎帕拉，烏幹達的首都，人們總是對你說: “如果你想過馬路，永遠不要趕在卡車或者 Boda Boda 騎手的前面, 他們從來不會為你停車。”這和那些乘車經歷讓我感到好奇: 這些在全國各地到處跑的騎手們是誰？他們有什麽樣的故事？為什麽他們的人數如此龐大?
Boda Boda 是烏幹達的摩托計程車: 載上一家四口、羊、床架或者五十個水罐——一點問題都沒有。
最初, 在跨邊境巴士出現之前, Boda Boda 是指被人們用來穿越烏幹達與肯尼亞邊境之間的無人區的自行車。在非洲的務實作風下這種“邊境到邊境”的服務被簡稱為 “Boda Boda”, 自行車也變成了摩托車——尤其是因為咖啡和香煙走私者們需要更快地穿越開闊地帶。
直到如今, 騎手們仍然有著 “粗暴魯莽的瘋子，車技能直接送你進醫院”的壞名聲。甚至坎帕拉政府也想把他們從城市中清除出去，好讓交通事故數下降，以營造一個現代城市的形象，而這也正是主要爭論所在。
不過鑒於這對當地交通系統將會是一個嚴峻的挑戰，烏幹達人民表示了抗議——於是 Boda Boda 仍存在於街頭巷尾。
我與很多騎手和乘客們談過話: “馬路上的確有些沒經驗的家夥，有些人直接從自行車切換到摩托車。但大多數時候，制造麻煩的其實是糟糕的道路或者警察的騷擾，” Owen 說到。 他有十年駕齡，並且是一家年輕騎手監管協會的管理團隊中的一員。
Derrick 就是這些年輕騎手其一, 他騎的車被旗子、塑料花、貼紙、引述聖經的金屬牌裝飾著。他說話溫柔，“我還沒有妻子，”是他說的第一件事。“但我在存錢了, 我想買一個路邊的小店送給我的未婚妻…”
這就是《The Boda Boda Book》裏的一則故事。這些關於人身自由、獨立以及在非洲的大城市謀生的故事來自底層，來自你不曾預想的地方。這些故事讓我在烏幹達的旅途中魂牽夢繞。