A chat with the bodaboda riders...

Next up for the meetings in this dusty drinks bar was a ragtag group of bodaboda riders.  Again, about 30 of them had gathered to meet me to hear about my idea and give me their feedback.  As with the mamas, I was introduced and then had the chance to explain the concept of offering these guys some training in road safety and motorcycle maintenance, then setting up a workshop delivering high quality, high standard maintenance skills by women.  Unlike the ladies however, there was no polite silence before their feedback began to fly forth from the crowd.  "Yes we need this",  "please do it now" and "good, good" all came back at me in Swahili.  Encouraged and perhaps also a little surprised by the enthusiasm (I'd expected to be having to convince these guys of why maintenance was important, so this ready acceptance and desire to adopt came as a welcome shock), I wanted to know more, so took the chance to ask these guys some questions.

"OK, so how many of you actually own your own motorbike?", I asked.  Two or three raised a hand.  I was surprised it was so low.  Wanting to check there was no misunderstanding here, I asked another way.  "And how many rent from someone else".  All the others raised their hands.  It turned out that their bikes were usually owned by a man who owned a small fleet of maybe 2 or 3 motorbikes, all hired out to these riders who hadn't enough capital to buy their own.  And at Tzs2,100,000 a pop (roughly £650) for these largely very poorly educated men with no means of other income, this was understandable, though a costly trap (on a good day, they earn Tzs15,000, paying away Tsz7000 to the owner each day regardless of takings, ie within a year, enough to buy 1 and a quarter bikes. A terrible deal.).  Nevertheless, I was surprised that they cared then about maintenance and asked them.  The response: "We have to do maintenance - the owners should pay but they usually don't and we need to keep these bikes running to earn an income."    

I asked what kind of maintenance they did currently.  "We are changing the engine oil once a week" they shouted, with all nodding assent.  I was amazed. "Why on earth are you doing that?" I asked, puzzled at this strangely excessive habit.  The reply came back that they knew that they shouldn't need to, but the oil they buy (at Tzs5000 a bottle and Tzs1000 for labour) looks genuine, but on opening it, it has a strange consistency and by the end of a week, its all turned to water, largely disappeared and the engine has lost all its power.  They knew this wasn't right but there was no other alternative in town.  Pretty shocking to be spending Tzs6000 a week like this, not to mention the downtime and loss of earnings, when you're lucky if you clear that each day after rental payments.  Time for the big question, in my mind at least.  "OK, so if for example, I could provide you with some good quality oil and have the labour done by a woman who knew how to do the job well, you would be happy and not mind that this was a woman doing this work?".  "Of course - it doesn't matter, we don't care, we just want to stop losing time and money.  Its stupid.  These (Chinese) bikes break down often enough as it is without having terrible oil too." 

"I see", I replied. "So if they are breaking down all the time, I am assuming you are having lots of accidents also".  Heads were nodded vigorously by all.  "Right.  And how bad are the injuries?" I asked.  No sooner had the words been translated, than a Mexican wave of activity was set in motion as everywhere I looked, sleeves and trousers were rolled up, shirts lifted and bodyparts exposed, with fingers pointing to such a hideous array of scars, scabs and wounds that even the most hardened of spectators would have been grossed out by this little shop of horrors.  "Ok, ok", I cried, covering my eyes and laughing at this gruesome display, "Please please put it away, I get the picture!!".  After a few chuckles at my squeamishness, mercifully everyone duly complied and once again sat back down so that the conversation could continue, covering all my other pet subjects, such as how long a chain and sprocket typically lasted (in the rainy season: one month!), what these guys could do with from Pikilily (give us all an equal chance.  And finance if you can) and all manner of other subjects.  

Questions answered, it was time to let these men get back to work, but not before I was mobbed for photographs as each wanted at least one selfie with the motorcycling Mzungu mama - an exhausting and after a while, seemingly endless process, as indeed it might have been had I not eventually realised that I was seeing the same faces coming back for another turn!  But what a fantastic chance to find out more and invaluable, positive information for the way ahead.