Driving in Uganda





As we are reflecting on our time here in Uganda, Michelle and I are finding ourselves intensively involved and invested in our project and relationships while also experiencing some crazy adventures of being in a new country.  These things are usually mingled together as we go throughout the day and our goal is to parse out these to be able to describe the deep richness of our work here and also share some crazy stories.  This is a day for crazy stories and descriptions.  Enjoy!


Traffic.  I’m not sure that we have words in English to describe what happens on the so-called roads here. Well ok, maybe we do. Congestion, confusion, craziness…something like that.  🙂  It’s not really traffic like we know it.  As our friend Brekly said, “Traffic in Uganda is like flowing water, if something is in the way, just go around it.”  Traffic in America, on the other hand, is more like a machine with stops and starts and everything fitting together systematically.  Brekly also helped us understand our role in traffic as pedestrians, we have the “right to get out of the way.”


There are tons of bodas on the roads.

They drive on the left side of the road here, but there aren’t really lanes, or shoulders, or even full roads, or lines of any kind except maybe once in a while.  In general, if you want to pass someone and there is only one lane on your side of the road, just look for an opening in oncoming traffic and then go around them.  If you are driving a motorcycle, or a bicycle, and you think you can fit between some cars…or trucks…or vans…or the side of the road and the pedestrians walking on it…even the sidewalk…go for it.  Totally.  Just do it.  🙂


The roads are so crammed with taxis, bodas, cars, trucks, and pedestrians.

Mototcycles/bicycles, also known as boda bodas, with passengers on the back are the fast moving water, the vans and cars are the slow moving water, and for trucks, everyone gets out of the way.  The bodas move the fastest during times of excess traffic, or a “jam” as they say here.  That’s nice, but I am finding I tend to squeeze my body as close to the boda as possible because we are only inches away from the other vehicles and I get a little nervous.  Bodas will also carry 1 or 2 passengers, making it extremely crammed.  But you might also find one person with a bunch of sugar cane (4 foot stalks) sitting horizontal on their lap.  Or you could see 2 four foot tall bags of charcoal stacked on top of each other sitting where the passenger would be.  You could find 12-20 five gallon jerry cans tied on the back, or a guy with a live chicken in his hand riding as a passenger.  With a boda, if you can hold it, you can ride with it.


A boda with the charcoal bags sitting horizontal.  We also saw one with them stacked vertically.

Taxis here are not the same as in the US.  They are more like buses but are 14 passenger vans.  They are about the size of 1980’s Toyota vans, with an extra bench or two inside.  There are also jump seats that are spring loaded seats that flip down in the aisle next to each bench, so you can really squeeze people in.  Each taxi has a driver and a conductor and the conductor’s job is to collect the money and hawk the route of the taxi to the pedestrians.


A stage where the boda bodas are.

Taxis and boda bodas usually gather at a “stage”, like a taxi stand, and it is designated place that everyone knows about.  There is a Kawanda stage, a Kawempe stage, a Bugalobi stage, etc.  The taxis gather there until they are full and then they drive their route.  That means, you might get in the taxi but wait 2-5 minutes for it to fill up before getting on the road.  When it’s time to get off, you let the conductor know and then there is a bit of shuffling as people get out with all their stuff to make room for other people to get out and then they get back in with all their stuff and that happens at just about every stop.  I don’t think most Americans would tolerate this at all, but it works just fine here.


Riding in the back of a full taxi this morning.

Taxis are slower than bodas because they get stuck in traffic, but they are the cheapest form of transportation as well.  Taking a taxi requires walking back and forth to the stage, so each trip has added time.  For us right now, we walk about 20 minutes to the Kawanda stage, then take the taxi for 25-40 minutes, depending on the jams, then walk another 30 minutes to the dance studio.  It’s not always that far from the stage either, but walking one mile is much much slower than driving one mile.


Bodas are sometimes bicycles as well, those are cheaper than motorcycles.  

Anyway, we have been taking taxis and bodas so far this week and find it to be ridiculous, a little scary, and exhilarating all in shifting various amounts throughout the ride!  We are very thankful we don’t have to learn how to drive in this while we are here.

One thought on “Driving in Uganda

  1. Pingback: Getting shot!…. I mean, SHOTS | Etkin Goes to Uganda with UWP #19

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