Back in 2010, going out in Fort Portal was always an adventure. Not only was I impressed by the vividness of the city during the evening hours, where its population of forty two thousand seemed to be in the streets and bars all at once, no, I was also impressed by the possibilities a small city like Fort Portal had to offer. Whether you were interested in having beers, playing pool, going to fancy restaurants, having street food or / and deciding to go to a club, Fort Portal would offer you several choices. Regarding the street food, it also nearly had the best rolex, only beaten by the very best I tried in Nkozi. But what made going out there so adventurous, was neither the bars nor the clubs nor the food. Back then, I used to share a house with three more people at the border of the town. So everything you could do in the town was connected to one special thing: “arriving at the place”.
The way “arriving at the place” works at my current home in Hamburg, Germany, is you leave the house, you either use your mobile phone to rent one of the city bikes or you use your mobile phone to buy a ticket for the metro, you get on the ride, and finally, you arrive. “Arriving at the place” in Fort Portal used to work very differently. Sure, you have to leave the house as well, but from there on, everything goes the special way. The means of transport in Fort Portal is the motorized boda-boda (for anyone who doesn’t know it: it’s a motorbike taxi). The boda-boda is operated by the boda-boda driver. And the one single thing a boda-boda driver doesn’t like, probably even despises, is the idea of the fixed price. Forget bedbugs, monkeys stealing your food, the dude peeing in the pool while you swim – the real enemy is the fixed price. And because of this unwritten law, the Mzungu always has to negotiate what he believes the best price would be.
– Seriously? Fourteen thousand shillings to Fort Portal? I paid one thousand last time!
– No Ssebo, nobody drives that cheap, because fuel and stuff… Two thousand, five hundred.
– Make it one thousand five hundred and I’m fine.
(And then, some day in the future you find out that natives from Fort Portal pay 500 shillings for the same distance)
The white guy believes he made a real nice deal. It’s so nice, he almost feels like a black guy. The boda-boda driver, on the other hand, had his piece of daily pleasure, for negotiating with a Mzungu is always fun. So finally, the ride starts.
Being the passenger on a boda-boda is something I associate with freedom. It’s unregulated, it’s dangerous and sometimes you see boda-bodas with two, three or four passengers, or a cow sitting on the back seat. Heck, I’ve even seen one transporting a bed horizontally. Try that in Germany, you won’t make one single kilometer before the police stop you. And because it’s such a freedom, I started to smoke while holding tight to the back seat. Just imagine this feeling: The speed makes the wind blowing through your hair while the warm suns shine on your skin, you close your eyes and inhale the smoke, deeply. You hold your breath to enjoy the moment – and suddenly your buttocks parts from your seat. The smoke you just had deep in your lungs is now, everywhere. You can’t help but cough. At the same time, you try to hold tight to the metal thing behind your seat, so you don’t fly off that devilish machine. This exact thing that just happened, it repeats. Three, four, five times. And through the smoke disappearing from your eyes, you see that your driver hit a rack of speed-bumps full throttle cause he was in a race with another boda-boda driver. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the price of freedom.