Helmet Hunting

Mom, Dad, grandparents: You don’t need to read this one.

Before coming to Africa I vowed I wouldn’t get on a motorcycle. There were enough other ways in which I would probably die and I felt no need to add a new one.

And if, for some strange reason, I would ride one, it would be with a helmet. Duh, I don’t ride a bicycle without one.

Well, plans change. One day in the first week of the trip, our tour guide informed us we’d be going to a lake. He then introduced us to our mode of transportation. A young, unhelmeted boy sitting on a wannabe motorcycle. “We go?”

Since then, I don’t want to tell you how many of those little things I’ve ridden.

Three people on one boda has become the norm, but I’ve been on ones with more.

At some point, I could no longer tell myself I wouldn’t ride bodas. When my mother said she’d pay for it, I decided a helmet really was pretty important.

So off I went. I stopped in Katwe, just south of Kampala, where I was told all the motocyclers buy spare parts and helmets (the few who have). I entered the store and as handed a very light, plastic-y thing. “Hmmm… do you have anything better?”

“You want a good one?” she asked, somewhat surprised.

“Um… yeah.”

“We don’t have. You go into town.”

I was directed to the street in which helmets were sold, near the taxi park. The taxi park is one of the least relaxing places to walk in, and I am constantly dodging curious men and comments like “ohhh, mzungu”, “I love you,” “Come here baby”. This time though, I was hot , sweaty and on a mission, so when one held on to my arm and said in a deep voice, “Mama… hello” and held my arm, I lost it completely.

I swung my arm away from his grip, and with a disgusted face yelled, “fuck off!” As I was walking away, I remembered I was in a bad area of a crowded African capital. And I had just told a big black man to fuck off.

When I reached the area where helmets were sold, I learned that they were charging around 20,000 shillings, meaning 10,000 post-bargaining, meaning four dollars.

I’m cheap and everything, but I am willing to pay more than four dollars for a motorcycle helmet. I WANT to pay more than that.

I picked up one helmet. “Which company makes this?” I inquired. He lifted the helmet and looked at the sticker on the back. “Ah, this one is made by XL.”

Tact is not my forte; I laughed in his face, thanked him and walked out.

In the next shop, I changed my question. “Which country makes this?” The man shook his head. “It is from no country. It is from China.”

I snooped around and was led to Verma, the best store in Kampala. There was a big price difference (presumably to cover the cost of having 50 useless empoyees – the one helping you, the one helping the one helping you, the one giving the form, the one stamping the form, the one putting the helmet on your head and the one throwing out the box) but it felt good to think my life was worth more than four dollars.

So if you’re still reading this, Mom, I have a helemt and that is why it’s okay to go on motorcycle safaris.


5 thoughts on “Helmet Hunting

  1. wonderful. very glad you have a helmet. wear it when you’re back here and riding your bicycle. and don’t ride those damn bodas – i’ve seen how those guys drive!
    and – funny post!

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