Boda Bodas: from Oxfam to Razor Blades

Owino KampalaKampala, Uganda.  Christmas is coming and I decide to take a break from work to do some shopping.  Kenneth and Patricia, youth from the One Stop Youth Centre, where I’ve been working, volunteer to take this mzungu (white person) to Owino Market.

First task is to get there.  With a mix of trepidation and channeling Evel Knievel, I follow Kenneth.  Both of us are on a boda boda (motorcycle taxi).  No helmets. Up and down we race, Kampala being known as the city of 7 hills.

I pay more to go slower.

This was not a good day to wear a skirt.

A tad shaken (not stirred) we arrive at the market.  I follow Kenneth and Patricia’s lead into the sprawling outdoor labyrinth.  The aisles can barely contain one person walking through, let alone those folks bent almost in half carrying massive loads that threaten to take you and anyone else in the vicinity out.

Dodging dogs, piles of garbage, puddles and those mysterious large loads I bob and weave my way through, wondering what I will do if I loose my hosts.

Reminding myself that I was here to shop I snatch glances of the goods around me.  Mountains of clothes.  Clothes everywhere.  Pants, tops, shirts, dresses, coats they’re all laid out from one stall to another.

What I am slow to realize is that the clothes are all second hand.  In fact many of them still have tags from Value Village (or Savers if you’re American), my favourite shopping haunt at home.  I buy a top that has an Oxfam tag on it.

I wish it could speak to me and tell me of its travels.  It’s probably journeyed farther than most people.  Made in China, shipped to the U.K. and then donated to wend its way to Uganda. Purchased by me its next home will be Canada.

I have fun bargaining and end up with some great goods.  My hosts help me get the non-mzungu price.

Taking a break Kenneth takes me up some narrow stairs.  We have a great view of the busy hive below us.  What catches my attention more however is the row of people hard at in front of us.

Razor blades flash as rows of people use them to quickly slash through seams and take apart entire garments before my eyes.  Next stop and large pairs of scissors held by capable hands cut and shape.  Passing off to people powering sewing machines by their feet, the bits are re-sewn into something entirely new.  Last stop before reentering the bustle below for sale, is being ironed like new.  Old fashioned irons, made hot by coals, make any wrinkles give up the fight and submit.

I’m impressed and, being in Kampala to do evaluation training for the United Nations, I can’t help but wonder what criteria folks use in deciding whether to sell a garment as is or to reinvent it.

What have you reinvented and made new lately?


Tags: , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “Boda Bodas: from Oxfam to Razor Blades”

  1. Mom Says:
    November 13th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    Hi Lee-Anne,
    Could you ever have imagined such a journey?
    It’s almost surreal. A once in a lifetime experience.
    It is not often once a woman is married and has
    children to be able to create ‘your time’.
    You have done that. Congratulations.

    Not that there aren’t repercussions. for example:
    wii game versus xbox. Travel broadens your mind but
    it also leaves the mice playing.

    Do carry on – having experienced our time in Kenya, I can
    so enjoy the added adventures. Though, maybe you should buy a helmet. love Mom

  2. Каталог статей Says:
    January 28th, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Bravo, your phrase simply excellent

  3. Cornelia Kurokawa Says:
    March 13th, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Thank you for your help!

  4. Sheldon Fiwck Says:
    April 5th, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    This is a useful post, but I was wondering how do I suscribe to the RSS feed?

  5. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    April 6th, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Hi Sheldon; thanks for your feedback. There should be an rss feed in your browser window that you simply click on. If that doesn’t work you can go to

  6. Tynisha Bollens Says:
    April 13th, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    I am a big fan of your blog and I check it regularly. Keep up the great work!

Leave a Reply