Being a Female Cyclist in Kampala: The Treatment and Gestures From Onlookers

In my previous post, I shared some of the many comments I have got while I ride through Kampala.

Amidst blurting out all sorts of comments, some people have gone on to be practical in expressing their shock on seeing me, a woman, ride a bicycle.

In this post – without going about introducing to you the unfair treatments women have had to endure from history, I will get right to what brought you here 😀

1. Staring

You ever heard the phrase “staring is rude!”

Well it surely is!

And when it is done to you without being in the know of why someone is doing it, is when it rings true that it is ACTUALLY RUDE.

During the early days of cycling, I honestly didn’t think people would associate a woman riding a bike as something worth staring at – I mean it is just riding a bike, just like any means of transport🤷🏾‍♀️.

So, I innocently got on the road and, in fact super excited to show off my lovely red bike.

Being green about the conspicuousness that came with being a female cyclist, the look I got from some people is the kind I would describe as a piercing stare of contempt for being indecent.

Very alarming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And being at a lower speed while pushing my bike than when riding, worry from the stares lasted longer

This always led to self-judgement and a great deal of ridiculous thoughts.

“Okay so did I just get off my bike without pulling my skirt down and now my inner garments are showing?” on a day I wore a round skirt or dress

“Shoot, I think I miscalculated the days for my monthly visitor and now my pants are soiled! 😖 after being stared at by a passenger or boda-boda rider coming from behind and only to check, I am completely fine

And if I am in a good mood, “Oh dear, I must be overly dressed today🤪 – He will be fine, I mean how often does he see a tall girl dressed like me pushing a cool bike”

It is later when someone goes verbal about it or kids screaming about how a woman is riding a bike that brings me back to the cold reality

And you know I find myself most times approaching the road as just me – a citizen enjoying the fact that I pay for taxes and the fresh air that is freely available in my country.

Then boooooooom, two boda-boda passengers being ridden past me look behind at me like “Woman what are you doing on the road?”

This happens every other day, and sadly – I am supposed to get used to it!

2. Thumbs up 👍🏾 and Way Creation

I think some people, on seeing a woman riding a bike, generally get so jovial that either giving me a thumbs up or getting numb is the best way they can express it.

It makes me feel like “a female icon” for cycling and trust me, you would want to experience this if you are a female out there in Kampala and can cycle but can’t get on the road.

For the thumbs up-

I can’t give a specific location or population

Passengers in taxis, on boda-bodas, people across the street seated on the pavement or actually in their apartments/rentals – I get one from each category at least once a week

It usually starts with them staring at me

When I boldly give them that look of “Yoooo, any problem?”

60% will radiate a smiley face and additionally give me a thumbs up like, “yooooo, you killing it”

And believe it or not, it most times leaves me super elated, more or less like a dog with two tails 🤗 – much as I want to think I shouldn’t be acclaimed for being alive or riding to work, because well, it’s my responsibility.

In response to this, I slightly bow my head with a smile as an act of courtesy

And as far as I can recall, such a response has proven to emanate a positive vibe which always leaves them smiling😀

When it comes to way creation, well…..

I think I look either too enthusiastic, queenly or just fragile when riding – just trying to understand why someone like a taxi driver would stop himself and fellow taxi drivers from driving for me to go my way

I will give an incident

While I go to work, there are a number of cross road junctions that I go through before I reach my destination

Traffic at such junctions gets intensely messy at rush hour and worse if there are no traffic lights.

An image showing traffic on cross roads with traffic lights

It all stems from boda bodas and taxi drivers who impatiently strive to cut the queue to get ahead of everyone, like the rest intended to be stuck in traffic

Believe you me, these are the hardest to cross when cycling!

So, I usually first get off my bike before crossing to the other side.

This one morning, I just felt like I could squeeze my way through the jumble without going off my bike just so I can have the experience to talk about or now, blog about

To my surprise, I didn’t have to!

And that was because of a taxi driver that was overwhelmed by me, a woman CYCLING!

When I approached the intersection area of the cross roads, he stopped his car and other vehicles in his direction

“Banange, muyimirile muleke omukazi ayitewo…(please stop and let the woman go her way) “, said the taxi driver in an authoritative but polite tone

I will not forget that statement and the aura that followed

They all stopped!

Even boda-boda guys that are stereotyped as stubborn and self-centred when using the road

They stopped for me, Nakandi, to ride my bike

How reverent can these two road users get!

And trust me, I have never felt like a royal👸🏾 my entire life like in that moment or other moments they let me go without having to hustle my way through

3. Impeding my movement

How ironic, when you consider the second treatment above!

Well, it is one incident I like to tell people that are curious about my experience on the road.

On this very bright morning, I was going uphill on one of the hills along my route to work.

It was during the early days of the lock down when only walking and cycling could get you where you wanted to be.

On reaching a point I could pedal no more, I unhappily got off my bike as I was not fit enough to climb hilly terrains with the short seatpost I previously had on my bike.

Part of Masiro road, one of the hilly roads on my route to and fro work

Very tired from cycling part of the hill, I pushed my bike slowly with a tired gait as my legs were still shaky from the exhausting pedalling.  

During such moments, I got sceptical about if I actually wanted to be a cyclist in Kampala, since there are quite a number of hills that I had to climb to get anywhere.

The streets had no cars – of course – only pedestrians walked along the pavements, some in clusters and others solitarily.

“…..baby ntwalako!” said a voice from one of the three guys I had shortly passed by.

“Hear we go again!” so I thought as I continued to push my bike in contemplation of how many times I had been told that statement that day.

In the next couple of seconds, I had reached the flat surface and I was ready to proceed with cycling – partly to get away from the blabbering guys behind me.

As I placed my foot on the right pedal to get my bike going, something wasn’t right!

The pedal couldn’t go forward no matter how hard I propelled it.

Oh no, not now!” I whispered to myself with frustration, as I got off my bike to check what was stuck in the spokes of my bike’s rear tyre – that’s how far my troubleshooting skills could go.

On turning to look behind, two guys burst out in laughter as their other colleague held the pillion of my bike in an effort to prevent it (my bike) from moving.

WOW!

I looked back at him with a face full of irritation like, “You must really trust your guts!”

For crying out loud, did this guy know that I work out and I sometimes do kickboxing in my sessions – I could have punched someone!

I actually did trust my energy and frustration to do something horrific at that time but then, my self-control had the upper hand.

I mean, their families could get called, only to find them with marred knuckles and seriously bruised faces.

As they all laughed, one of the guys asked the perpetrator, “Why are you bothering the lady?” as he got from my bike.

Tired and frustrated, I figured I actually would rather be anywhere but around those guys plus, it was a better option to reserve my energy for the rest of the journey.

So, I went my way.

When I look back at that incident, I laugh sometimes – but then wonder, what would have ensued if I had anger repressed from an argument with someone I left at home?

Better still, would that same treatment happen to someone if they were male – I wonder!

4. Saluting

Yep……and as far as this seems far-fetched, it actually happened.

In my home area, one of the many names my dad is called by is “Afande

Afande is a title given to a soldier, a police man or anyone known/seen to carry a gun or wear army clothes – you prolly know this already.

My dad has really never been explicit about why many people – not just my home area – call him by that title

I like to presume it is because he low-key participated in the NRM liberation war in Luwero district that brought Museveni’s government to power.

He has made a name for himself as someone that has stayed in Masanafu (my very very humble home area 😀) for as long as anyone can remember and an owner of one of the huge hardware stores in the area.

The consequences of having such a father is being a famous daughter – for my case.

On my way to connect to the Northern by-pass enroute to my workplace, I pass by a metal fabrications shop owned by one of my dad’s devoted customers

Ever since I started cycling and I pass by his shop when he is not engaged, he calls outs phrases like: “Afande Afande Afandeeeeee” or “Savimbiiiiiii – Not sure what this means but my dad is sometimes called that” or  “Kyekyooooo Brendaaaaa– (Bulendaaaaa to be exact)”

He says it all so amusingly, I find myself smiling back at him or further responding verbally – depending on which phrase he calls out.

This one morning as usual, I used that route and this time he wasn’t at his shop but standing on the side of the road.

And on seeing me, he stood still – his feet together, left hand in contact with his body and with an erect posture, he moved his right hand with straight fingers onto his forehead to salute me!

Damn!

Now I am an actual Afande y’all and yes, lately I dress like one

Afande herself! Photo Credit: Lucy Namuli

It was one hell of a sight and in fact, I grinned that entire stretch as I rode past him to go to work.

5. Lip licking

This is the worst of them all!

From my day-to-day life lessons, I have learned that such a gesture depicts anticipation of eating something delish

Or in the absence of a napkin, the tongue in this case aids in removal of any food specks that may get stuck on the lips as one eats.

Additionally, I have read literature where some couples do it as a sign of attraction to their partners.

Some bold men though, have the audacity do it to any one they find attractive – irrespective of who that person is to them

The very first time a man did it to me during my bike voyages, was during the days of the lock down when the streets were almost empty as use of cars was only restricted to essential workers

Curfew being as early at 7 pm, I always left work early enough not to get stuck in a road block created by LDUs.

This one day as I happened to brake at a zebra crossing to let people cross the road, I found the eyes of a fleshy faced averagely tall – about 5’5 – man locked on me

“Whoah, how is he able to cross the road?”, I wondered

In the split seconds of looking at him, and subsequently having the thoughts of looking away, he passed his tongue over his lips and simultaneously winked at me with a lazy and utterly off-putting look.

Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww!

It was a whole bolt out of the blue and yes, very disgusting!

On top of the utter shock that my face couldn’t hide, I quickly looked away and only grateful there were other people crossing the road with him.

When it was time for me to go my way, I seriously couldn’t get that traumatising incident off my head for as long as I rode that day– no jokes!

And it’s not once that someone has done it

When I go out to ride, I anticipate getting fresh air and a fresh mind as I go my way

Inconsiderately, some people decide to spoil my mood by doing something as despicable as that

The only thing I am left to say these days is, “hmmmm…”

I mean, what else can I do?!

And that’s not all-

I have been barked at before by a street vendor to the point of falling off my bike because well, why not freak me off the road since women are considered timid to cycle on busy streets – honestly why would someone do something like that?

Occasionally, some boda-boda men see me and subsequently make a continuing sound with their motorcycle horns while saying cheering phrases like, “kyekyoooooo mummy”

Just recently, as I was cycling back home, a boda boda man moved his fingers along my hand saying, “Banange campuser – ngonyiliridde ku ggali, kankukwateko katono mpulire atleast skin yo bwefilinga: oh campuser – you look really nice on the bike, let me at least feel your skin just so I know how if feels!”

Another time, this angry faced man looked at me and domineeringly uttered;” Ddamu empisa, abakazi tebavuga ggalimeaning Get you some manners, women don’t ride bicycles” – WOWWW, I was speechless for this one (For starters, where did he get all the anger from ?😅 )

It surely will take eons for me to exhaust it all

But this shouldn’t be happening!

I would have given up already on doing this but I am sure I want my kids – girls to be exact – to be able to ride and experience all there is that cycling has to offer.

Women cycling in Kampala should be okay and normal.

And guess what?

I am not stopping any time soon!

I will keep on riding and riding – to every place I can – just so people can get used to it so that 5 years from now, any woman / girl can ride a bike in Kampala without getting any sexist comments or ridiculous treatment for choosing to be a female cyclist!

I am happy to hear your thoughts about this piece in the comments section below, thank you! 😊

17 Comments

  1. Guess some people forget that this is cycling and not mancycling (if there was word for cycling demonstrating that only men can do it) and it should therefore not be out of the ordinary that girls cycle too!Thank you for sharing🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article, the videos and pictures add a nice touch, however, please, please please buy a helmet. I cannot stress how exposed you are while everyone else is driving around in metal skin (cars), please buy and wear a helmet. Your safety comes first dear.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Daaaaaaaaaaamn🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣….what a write up very funny.
    Encouraging too…….I want to hop on a motorbike…….😎planning on learning.
    Lady, get a helmet and if possible knee pads.
    Can’t wait for the next indulgence 👍👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such an interesting read! Must be a crazy experience. It’s quite fascinating that the culture is so different here, but I love that you are doing you and breaking norms.

    Looking forward to reading your next blog!

    Like

  5. I cant remember the last time I rode a bike… they say its something you never forget how, never thought about getting a bike as a primary mode of transport.
    Kudos to you and your cycling journey and the blog
    stay cycling
    ~B

    Like

    1. Hey B,

      The day you will think about it and additionally implement your thoughts, is the day you will have heaven opened unto you :). Anyways, thank you and yes, imma keep cycling.

      Ps. B is my nickname too 😃

      Liked by 1 person

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