Week 1 has been crazy and exhausting but off to a fantastic start! Jetlag is almost beaten, although I ran on coffee instead of sleep for most of the week. Monday was taken up by classes. Interesting, but both classes together made for a long day.
I feel like my life has been taken over by bodas (motorbike taxis)!
In addition to being the quickest form to transport in Kampala, I am interning at a start-up microfinance organization that loans motorbikes to drivers, who use them as taxis to earn a living. The organization is called Tugende,“Let’s go” in Luganda. The loan system revolves around the “drive to own” philosophy; once the value of the bike has been repaid the drivers own the bikes but in the mean time they are using them as taxis to earn a living.
Boda drivers eke out a modest income from their work, often barely enough to make ends meet, so saving up to buy a bike outright is difficult, many drivers choose to rent their bikes, making payments to a landlord on a weekly basis. Owning a bike makes it considerably more profitable and drivers can then save towards other goals like building a house, buying a plot of land, or paying for their children’s school fees. This is the basic premise of the organization, run by an American man named Michael Wilkerson (aka my boss). If you want to find out more about Tugende then check out the website or send me an email!
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OK, so that’s a brief explanation of where I’m working while I’m here! I work with 3 American MBA students, 2 Uganda managers and the CEO, Michael, the office fills up fast when everyone’s there! Wednesday was a great introduction because it’s the day that we host info sessions for prospective customers and help them fill out applications. So in addition to the 7 staff, there are also about 30 boda drivers! It was definitely standing-room only. The rest of the week was more normal and I'm looking forward to the projects we have lined up.
There have been a few more nights at the bar since I got here. A big bottle of beer (I’m guessing it’s about a pint) goes for $2, which is also the standard amount if you have to pay cover on the weekends! When I get back to Vancouver I have a feeling it will be quite a shock. I also discovered the Uganda equivalent of a 4am McDonald’s run- the Rolex. No, it’s not an expensive watch, it’s actually cooked egg, onions, tomato and sometimes cabbage rolled up in chapati (flatbread) and served hot. Mmmmmm. Oh and it costs about $1.
Today was a bit of a relaxing day, since the rest of the group is in Kigali for the weekend, but part way through the afternoon Michael called to see if I wanted to come out to the launch of some of our new bikes. Drivers who had been waiting received their motorbikes, freshly painted and tuned up, so they can start driving them. The pure happiness on their faces as they received their bike could only be compared to a kid on Christmas morning as each man stood so proudly with his new bike. This really drove home the impact that Tugende is having and made me equally proud to be a part of it.
Tucked behind the metal shop kids found endless ways to play with the empty helmet boxes. What a great way to end the week. I’m really looking forward to the rest of my time here in Kampala.; it feels good to be back