My Husband Loves Me

Ugandans use bicycles so much, they even become gifts of love.

If mosquitoes are the most common form of life in the air, bicyclists easily hold that title for the earth. They swarm Lira's streets, taking over entire lanes and making crossing the road a game of chicken. I have no idea how all the actual loose chickens pecking for scraps around here manage.

So rather than fight them, we joined them. It hasn't rained here in nearly two months, so it's horribly dusty and piercingly hot. Best to race from one shady spot to the next. We hopped on the rear seats of bicycle drivers and they steered us through the menagerie. The bicycle “bodas,” as they are called, are mostly driven by young men, usually thin as reeds, and generally happy to comply with any far-fetched request. “Take me to the far side of town where I have no address and have never been. No, I don't  know the exact name of the office or what's nearby.” Off they pedal.

I kind of felt like a fat American, sitting on my padded seat as the drivers do the sweating. That is, until I was told that the drivers actually do charge more if you are fat. I'll take it as a compliment that for me they charge the normal rate – about 25-cents a ride.

The great thing about the bicycle bodas is that theoretically their rates will not go up with the price of gasoline. Gas prices here are $6.40 a gallon – a fuel crisis that should put Americans to shame. Supplies come from the coast through Kenya and they haven't been all that reliable, according to the Ugandan government.

I suppose from an environmental standpoint it's better that bicycles are the transport of choice here. But that's only because of necessity. When people have money, of course they move up the ladder to fossil fuels. By far the biggest guzzlers on the road are driven by aid agencies and UN staff who roar around in Land Rovers and pickup trucks acting important.

I say there is something indisputably fun and easy about tootling around town on a bike. Today I learned that women's bikes – you know, the kind with the lower cross bar – are called chwaramara in the local tongue. It means, “My husband loves me.” A special bike for a special girl.

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