Living in Kampala as a white female requires a certain amount of humor and resilience to deal with the constant barrage of redundant pick-up lines. The persistence of certain men, who find you desirable even when you’re stumbling hungover through the taxi park at six in the morning, necessitates a wide variety of excuses. These can range from “I’m sorry, I seem to have forgotten my own number,” to “Yes, my husband is a professional Norwegian lumberjack, and we raise pit bulls together with our three lovely children” — both of which have come in handy.
And then there are the times you fail, your mind falters and all excuses desert you, and you’re left having given your phone number to a blue-helmeted boda driver named Edward who will call you every thirty minutes between 6:30am and 8pm for the next three weeks.
Edward and I spent a miserable 90 minutes on a boda (motorcycle taxi) one drizzly Tuesday morning in a sorely misguided attempt to return to my village from southeastern Kampala. Despite my frantic arm-waving and my emphatic commands to “Stop. This is Bad. We turn around. We go back,” Edward sojourned on to Kawempe, 10km from where I live. When we finally reached my home, he was so apologetic that he knocked 2000 shillings off the price and offered to give me a ride whenever I needed it. Finding someone willing to take you cross-town and then some for a reasonable price at 6am can be a challenge, so I accepted and we exchanged numbers.
Though I’d done my best to explain when I needed rides, Edward began calling me just a few short hours after dropping me off to ask if I could use his services. I answered the first time he called out of curiosity (perhaps I’d left something on his bike?), and the second out of pity and mild frustration. (“Thank you, I’m sorry you don’t have any other riders, but I’m not going anywhere at the moment.”)
Though I stopped picking up, Edward kept calling, and the situation grew so dire that I began keeping my phone on silent. Rather than daunting his persistence, my refusal to acknowledge Edward seemed to increase his determination. He began sending text messages of the sort that only romance-stricken boda drivers can send: “U wher r u havnt seen u in so long plz call Edward” and “Hopping ur not sick want 2 see u call me plz.”
The messages eventually slowed and then, one blissful day, stopped entirely, and Edward faded from my consciousness until a couple of days ago, when I made the mistake of picking up another boda from the same stage. Immediately after hopping on the bike, I noticed Edward hunched sulkily over his handlebars, staring at me. As we pulled away, he straightened up and yelled, as only boda drivers can, “MZUNGU WHY YOU NOT LOVE ME?”
I’m sorry, Edward. My heart already belongs to a Norwegian lumberjack.