yambala elementi yo! (wear your helmet!)


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Photo by Catherine Nampeera

I BOUGHT a motorcycle helmet the other week, and now go with it almost everywhere these days – making a point to carry it out of the car and into coffee shops and offices.

I do NOT use boda-bodas. More accurately, I have successfully avoided using boda-bodas for a very long time now, and intend to continue doing so.
My reasons might be different from most but include, in order of importance: 1. A keen interest in living to a respectable age 2. A strong desire to keep all my body parts intact and functional while living to that respectable age 3. The internal discomfort that boda-boda rides involve, for me, because of the daredevil nature of the average boda-boda chap, and; 4. The external discomfort that they involve because of my body mass in relation to the size of an average boda-boda seat.
But I do use boda-bodas by proxy, because there are people that I work with whose nature of work makes travel by boda-boda expedient and sensible even if most of the people that operate the machines are rarely the latter.
For years, I have been asking many of these colleagues of mine to acquire and use helmets as they ride round the city. I also, whenever the opportunity arises, find it both easy and necessary to tell even the most random boda-boda riders that they must wear helmets on duty.
At one point my tactic included shouting at them as they whizzed past: “Gundi; yambala elementi yo!”, because the phrase always raises mirth in me. Like Fulampeni and Kabada and Bulekyi-Food (a bottle of which I once bought in Wandegeya just so I could say the word out loud repeatedly in conversation).
I stopped shouting out the ‘Yambala Elementi Yo!’ phrase when an easily startled fellow in Kitintale, I later learnt his name to be Muwamadi, responded by swerving almost into a perimeter wall.
Ironically, even though I was the cause of his near-death experience I engaged him in a conversation about how he would surely have spread his brains all over that nearby wall if he had not brought the bike under control quicker. He did point out, shakily, that the entire conversation would have been unnecessary if I hadn’t shouted him down.
Explaining irony to him would have been painful (less than the accident itself), so I focused on the point that the accident that didn’t happen to him was likely to one day occur because the manner in which we stop boda-boda chaps is by shouting them down as they whizz past us on the road.
I pointed out to him the inconvenience he would have introduced to the homeowner who would have had to wash blood and brain splatter off his wall, and the trauma I would have suffered having watched his skull crumple against said wall. More importantly, though, I pressed upon him the burden his wives (he has two) and children would have faced if he died that day or became crippled.
The conversation ended with him promising to wear his ‘elementi’ (by the way – that’s vernacular for ‘helmet’) rather than perch it on the handlebars of his bike – and I have spotted him doing so a couple of times since.
From our conversation I suspected Muwamadi does not have a university degree, and I would be surprised if he showed me a senior six leaver’s certificate in his name.
Unlike most of my colleagues.
So my patience with him and others of his ilk in the matter of the use of protective wear is somewhat condescending. He cannot know better, poor fellow, and has to be spoken to gently and slowly. Where possible, I believe he and people like him need to be shown pictures and have skits performed for them.
Unlike most of my colleagues.
A person with a University degree taught in a language originating in countries where the use of protective wear is almost automatic should have no excuse for not wearing a helmet.
A person whose entertainment consumption includes foreign feature films in which people ride about wearing helmets and even padded clothing should not need to be told to dress up wisely for a bike ride.
A person who reads books and magazines where items like helmets are commonplace should not need to hear the call ‘Yambala Elementi Yo!’.
One of my colleagues uses an iPhone and Macbook, and spends lots of time in trendy coffee shops and cozy bars serving pricey drinks and sumbusas that cost more than Muwamadi’s average domestic meal (both wives and all children inclusive).
Yet she neither owns her own helmet nor uses one provided by a boda-boda chap. Her reasons are illogical enough for me to hope that one day her University and secondary school uses them to withdraw her academic qualifications.
What is the cost of a helmet? Not the ones that look like a 1940s war relic or an upside down washing powder bucket (500gms). How much is a padded helmet with a visor that swings down and swishes that look trendy?
Twenty Thousand Shillings. (UPDATE: TO BUY A HELMET, CALL 0775074834
or 0703170934 – I get no commission whatsoever and the people behind those numbers do not know me at all, to the best of my own knowledge.)
About the same as the consultation fees one pays at any clinic near you. And much, much cheaper than the cost of a funeral.
I bought two – one for me, and one for the colleague who I send directly onto a boda-boda. The rest, I insist should travel by taxi or walk, because I don’t want their blood on my hands or splattered all over a roadside wall.

5 thoughts on “yambala elementi yo! (wear your helmet!)

  1. I’ve host over 800 international volunteers in Uganda – all with decent education, most coming from countries where helmets are not only commonplace, but law. After offering helmets to each and everyone of them, I finally had one take me up on the offer. When she left Uganda, the helmet stayed with us. My 3 year old destroyed it in 6 months. A helmet purchased for 20K wouldn’t have lasted that long. I wonder how it would actually withstand a collsion… I applaud your efforts though!

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