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Day 14

Transportation here by most people is just walking everywhere. I walk half way to work and then catch a boda boda since even though the rooster wakes me up at 6:00 I’m still usually running late. I then take the 45-minute walk home. I live in a neighborhood called Amalemba, which is on the border of Kakamega town. A boda boda is a bicycle with an upholstered seat over the back wheel that ladies have to sit sidesaddle on. They are called boda bodas because they were used to smuggle goods over the border to Uganda, border to border. They couldn’t transport goods via the road given the political strife so they would strap as much as they could on a bicycle and then head across the border through the forest.


There are hundreds and hundreds of bodas in Kakamega. When I get to the main road I just point to one of the guys to take me because there can be anywhere from five to twenty waiting to take someone for a ride. Along the major road there is a paved bike path for all of the bodas with built-in speed bumps because they can be going pretty fast. I’ve only had one run-in and luckily we were going very slowly, so I just hopped off when it happened and since we weren’t to my location yet the driver refrained from getting into a fight.


Bodas are usually very pimped out. The bikes are painted green, red, blue and yellow. The seats are upholstered in those same bright colors with leather tassels and lots of grommets. They also have mud flaps with sayings on them usually related to God and a bell to warn pedestrians to get out of their way. Some really get all decked out with lots of decorations, stickers, a radio, pretty much anything they can strap on to the bike frame or the wheel spokes.

Besides people, bodas pretty much carry anything. I’ve seen them with bags of seed piled 6 feet high on the back and four crates high of full soda bottles. One time I saw a big bloody cow leg on the back, one end the foot, the other the bloody stump. Lots of people use a boda to transport water so they will be covered with yellow water containers; pretty much wherever one can get strapped on. The best I saw though was a full couch balanced on the back, very impressive.


Matatus are the other main form of transportation. They are large transport vans that shuttle people to all of the area towns and villages. I try avoiding these as much as possible because even though there is a law in place that says they can have only 12 passengers, the touts try shoving about 20 people in. Usually they are so full that there is a body hanging out of the door or the windows. In the more rural areas there are small pick-ups with camper toppers on them. Benches line both sides and then people crouch in the middle. I was in one where there were 14 adults and 6 children squished into the back. There were actually two men sitting on the door as it swung open in the back. That’s just including the people; most people also have a lot of goods with them that they have purchased at the market, including animals. One of the interns actually saw a live goat strapped to the roof of one along with all of the other goods. Then, as you are flying down the potholed road, they flick out rolled bills to the corrupt police that set up stops along the side of the road so they won’t get a ticket. The silver lining of the matatu is that if you get a nice one you get to be entertained with awesome music videos playing on the TV they have. Many times this is P-Square, a Nigerian boy band.

There are also a lot of dirt bikes in use called piki pikis. I only ride these with my co-workers not the ones for hire. We navigate the bumpy dirt roads out to the villages on them to get to the women’s groups. Those are exciting rides. One time we got a flat tire and were stuck waiting for a rescue for 2 hours. All of other piki piki drivers kept trying to pick me up. I’m definitely not following the motorcycle rules I grew up with, since I’m usually in a skirt and sandals, I do have a helmet though. Also, it’s not appropriate for me to hold on to the driver, so I have to balance well enough and hold onto the seat. I’m getting pretty adept at it over all of the speed bumps, ditches and rocks.

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