I measure how well my work day at the Court of Appeal has gone by two things- what kind of snacks I got at the court that day and how harrowing my daily bodaboda commute was. Every day, at least twice a day, my Ugandan colleagues bring me tea and three slices of bread. I have been reliably informed by my coworker Tina that eating is a Ugandan national pastime. After my first tea time, she declared gleefully, “You will gain 30 pounds in Africa!” That glee abruptly turned to horror when later that day I made the fatal error of telling the Ugandans that I don’t really like to eat lunch. At first, they were incredulous, “But Nora! It is lunchtime!” they told me when I skipped my lunch break to work. Over the next week, they began to realize that this was not an aberration for me, but rather a habit. That’s when their worry really set in. “You will go home 10 pounds lighter!” “Do you think you eat enough?” “I don’t understand…” At the beginning of the second week, I began noticing that tea time was slowly becoming a feast. My daily bread and tea was now accompanied by an endless supply of ground nuts (peanuts) fresh from the market, roasted corn, sweet bananas, jack fruit, pineapple, and on one particularly memorable occasion, fried grasshoppers. Furthermore, I am no longer trusted at tea time without Ugandan supervision. “Ah-hem. Nora. You did not feel like tea today?” Judi innocently asks me when I have just one cup instead of a whole pot. “I have something you cannot say ‘no’ to”, Tina confidently says. “You do not take your tea with sugar?” several people ask when I add just one teaspoon instead of the typical five that Ugandans add. “Nora, you only take three granules of sugar. You need to learn to be African.” Sometimes I feel like the chambers’s new pet puppy. But the quirkiness and concern is endearing and has really made me feel welcomed and part of the team.
My second standard for judging my day is, shockingly, scarier than grasshoppers. Because the traffic in Kampala makes LA traffic look tame, many people choose to take moto taxis (called bodabodas) to avoid the jams. Before I came to Uganda, I was warned about this particular mode of transportation. Former Pepperdine interns explained that it can be kind of risky, and that we should always perform the “sniff test” before getting on to make sure that the bodaboda driver was not drunk. Professor Gash sent us several articles on how they are death machines. And you can only hear so many people recommend that you bring a helmet with you before you start to get really nervous. However, the Court of Appeal is about a ten minute drive from the apartment (as the bodaboda flies), so the most time- and finance-efficient method is by boda. The first week, I got incredibly lucky with my drivers. They stopped at intersections to look for oncoming traffic, they slowed down going over speed bumps, and the bikes had both side mirrors. So, of course, I got a little cocky. “This isn’t so bad,” I said to myself. One day, I even fell asleep on the way home. At first, I brought a change of clothes to work so that I wouldn’t have to ride side-saddle (or “ride like a lady” as one colleague put it). But then I grew bold, and lazy, and stopped bringing a change of clothes. After I figured out how to balance myself, I began to enjoy perching precariously on the back of a boda. Ah, hubris. And then school vacation ended, the traffic grew exponentially worse, and everything went to hell in a handbasket. The ride home was no longer a leisurely jaunt, but a harrowing death ride. And suddenly it became abundantly clear to me why every Ugandan reacted with a wide-eyed look of horror when I tell them I take a bodaboda to work every day. The bikes weave heedlessly through cars, coming so close to them that you have to tuck your knees in to avoid getting hit. If you’re unlucky, you’ll get to your destination with bruised appendages. Sometimes the bodabodas drive on the side walk if the jam really isn’t moving. Other times they hurtle down the hills and around roundabouts without hitting the breaks once. The pinnacle of my bodaboda experience was when Johnny and I took one home from a group dinner and within 30 seconds had almost been thrown from the bike. Johnny had to jump off to balance us and stop us from falling over. The rest of the trip was equally terrifying, as we almost got hit by a bus, another boda boda, and heard an ominous “click click click” going up the hills. I have never gotten off a bike so fast in my entire life. Despite all the near death experiences, I really do enjoy zipping around the city on the back of one, especially at night with the wind in my hair and the stars up above. I have no doubt that I will think longingly of bodabodas when I am at an angry standstill in LA traffic.