“A bus hit me.”
I held the phone back from my ear, staring at the bars in the top left screen, confirming the connection was good.
“Sarah, did you hear what I said? A bus hit me!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but yes, I heard every word coming out of Gabriel’s mouth, carried over the line. What I couldn’t hear, was if he was OK?
He seemed lighthearted about it, so I figured he wasn’t laying on the side of the road in pain, waiting for medics to arrive. But the lightheartedness sounded almost too jovial, and I swear I heard a laugh creep into his voice. Maybe he’s already in the hospital and they have loaded him up on so many drugs that he’s delirious and doesn’t even know how serious this is!
“Are you OK? Where are you? What happened?”
“Yea, I’m fine. We were crossing the bridge and came to a stop. There was this bus behind me, and suddenly it just lunged forward and bumped the back of my motorcycle. Of course, that was after we were already delayed because your motorcycle broke.”
“WHAT? My bike broke? What is going on out there?”
Any westerner who has traveled around Uganda or the surrounding region is familiar with this expression. “T.I.A.” or “This Is Africa” is the equivalent of the Japanese phrase shikata ga nai, or the French phrase c’est la vie. Less eloquently put, in English it means “it is what it is.”
Typically, T.I.A. is used when something cannot be helped, or when it’s best to just accept the circumstances for what they are, rather than fight the system. And it summed up the process of buying our motorcycles, from start to finish.
Friday was the first day since our move that we didn’t have anything scheduled — nothing we needed to get done. Except buy two motorcycles.
We knew months ago we would get them. We did our research and discovered the bikes (called bodas) were our cheapest option for moving around (although not our mothers’ or my grandmother’s transportation of choice). We located a shop that sold them and our friend Martin scoped out prices for us (to ensure we didn't receive mzungu treatment). We budgeted our funds, made a wire transfer (which in itself, made me feel pretty B.A.), and then we waited for the right day to come.
Ironically, because there are so many motorcycle-taxis around town, we decided to make the purchase sooner than later. After hopping on bodas multiple times, we decided we felt more safe behind our own handlebars, than those of a stranger who most likely has no training and possibly no license.
Knowing it would be a process, we prepared all of the needed documents in advance. We used another friend’s name and information to register the bikes, since we’re still waiting for our work visas (and therefore don’t have tax ID numbers). And then we left home around 10 am and headed to the shop, hoping to be back home by early to mid-afternoon.
Upon arrival at the shop, we decided fairly quickly to go with red bikes. This is because 1) Bajaj (the manufacturer) only makes three colors: red, black and blue. And 2) the manager said they would have to special order any other color from India, where Bajaj is based. They weren't sure if this was even possible, or how long it would take if it was.
The price for the bikes was set by Bajaj, to avoid corruption. But we still had wiggle-room with accessories. After using our haggling skills to get what we needed, we handed over our money and waited.
And waited some more. I watched as a crowd of men hovered around a desk where only one woman sat, processing every purchase, registration, receipt and work order for the entire dealership. T.I.A.
Eventually we were told to come back after lunch, as they needed two hours to process our papers.
Martin joined us at one of our new favorite restaurants. We dined, then split ways, as I had errands to run and we thought the process was near completion.
I headed back home, my arms full of goods from the market and dairy, and waited to hear Gabriel drive up on the new bikes. One hour passed. Then two. Then three.
By late afternoon, I started to worry. But I didn’t have internet and I was running low on airtime (our equivalent of minutes and text messages, which are limited and purchased on a need-only basis, not in a monthly phone plan). So I waited for word from Gabriel.
And then, when my nerves were most agitated, the phone rang and all I heard was “a bus hit me” on the other end.
A note from Sarah: Men, should you find yourselves in the unfortunate incident where you have been “hit” by a bus (or any vehicle, for that matter), it is recommended you start off the phone call to your spouse with a “babe, I’m totally fine and OK, but…”
After Gabriel clarified that the “hit” was more of a “bump,” and that he was OK, we continued our game of 20 Questions.
“What happened to my bike?”
Apparently, as the dealership’s guy was driving it home, the gear shifter fell completely off. He pulled over and attempted to find it, but couldn’t. After somehow managing to get it the rest of the way home, plans were made for the dealership to send a mechanic out the next morning.
It took 27 years and moving to Africa for me to get my own motorcycle, and I had to wait another day before I could ride it.
I went to bed that evening like a kid on Christmas Eve, unable to fall into too deep a sleep. But eventually, morning came and the mechanic arrived. He brought with him one gear shifter, one bolt, and one tool. Of course, this wasn't enough and he had to drive down the road to see another mechanic to get what he needed. He also asked for money for a coke on his 1/4 mile drive. T.I.A.
And then, finally, I straddled my Bajaj Boxer. Gabriel and I spent Saturday afternoon tearing up the red dirt roads around campus, acclimating to our new bikes.
As I learned how to use a heel-toe gear shift, I couldn’t help but be a little homesick for Boris, our Ural Motorcycle back home.
But the moment of nostalgia was replaced with excitement as one minute, a monkey ran out in front of me, and a minute later I skirted around a herd of cattle marching down the road. This riding is unlike anything back home. It’s just as much fun. And only a little more dirty.
Yes, of course we named the new bikes. Since they came from India, we wanted to pay homage to their roots. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Tandoori and Paneer.