“We go!” Joshua Tusubira waves at me impatiently, swinging his leg over his motorcycle and revving up the engine. “A mama called from the deep, deep village!”
Within moments of receiving the phone call, Tusubira has connected his motorcycle to the mobile stretcher stationed at the health center, whipping his fingers at the final metal nut to spin it into place. The mobile stretcher is a bright red contraption on two wheels: a larger, more serious version of the child bike trailers that fitness-conscious parents tow in suburban America.
I hop on a second motorcycle, and soon we’re hurtling down dirt roads, swerving to avoid the ditches carved out by the torrential downpours of the rainy season and sending clouds of dust billowing behind us. Villagers turn their heads at Tusubira and the strange apparatus he’s pulling. The parish residents break into incredulous smiles or stare gape-jawed; schoolchildren scream and chase after Joshua for as long as they can.
Tusubira is a boda boda man—a motorcycle taxi driver—in rural Isingiro District, southwestern Uganda. He’s not just any motorcycle taxi driver, though: He is the head motorcycle ambulance driver of the United Nations Millennium Villages Project’s new emergency referral system for pregnant women and children under five in Ruhiira Parish.
As the head motorcycle ambulance driver of Ruhiira Parish, Joshua Tusubira says “I teach and remind my fellows on what they’re supposed to do, and put more energy in them that they should love their job.” Photo: Jen Zhu
Review of maternal and child deaths in the area revealed that a disproportionate number are due to lack of timely transport to the health center. Although the Millennium Villages Project has one ambulance car, it is unable to respond to all emergency calls, primarily because it’s often already en route to Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital, 1.5 hours away from Ruhiira Parish.
Boda bodas originated on the Kenyan-Ugandan border in the 1960s and 70s as bicycle taxis that transported people across the no-mans land between the Kenyan and Ugandan border posts. They provided an option for people who wanted to avoid the paperwork for using motor vehicles to cross the international border. Boda boda is corrupted English for “border-to-border”—what the bicycle owners would call to potential customers.