“Watch Out for That Bike” A Story Worth Telling

Bo in the Hole. Bo Smith standing in "Pothole" on African "Highway."
Bo in the Hole.
Bo Smith standing in “Pothole” on African “Highway.”

Watch Out for That Bike!



“Watch out for that Tricycle.”*

       Baseball dugout call to distract fielders on a popup.

Scroll down to read “Watch Out for That Tricycle.

They don’t play much baseball in Uganda (they did have a team in last year’s Little League World Series.) but they do have plenty of bikes.  Bicycles galore. And thousands of small motorcycles called “Boda-Bodas”** 

** supposedly boda-bodas are named for how they go “border to border.”

Last week I had a close encounter of the worst kind with a bicycle. It was in a town on the Nile River.  Its location isn’t given to protect the guilty . . . and there were plenty.

It could have been avoided if I’d either honked my horn or wisely let the bicyclist pass by on my left.  (Remember,  Uganda’s British heritage means you drive on the left side of the road and your steering wheel is on the right. )

The (Victoria) Nile River at Karuma Falls, Uganda.
The (Victoria) Nile River at Karuma Falls, Uganda.

I pulled our bush vehicle into a parking lot for a rest stop just after passing the man on his bicycle.  After I stopped, he ran into the back of our vehicle. 

My boss Bob said,  “This is bad.”   

It’s the fear of every white man in African to have a collision with an African. And it’s the dream of many Africans to hit pay dirt in same encounter.

Our new friend was standing his bike up.  No sign of damage.  He rubbed his knee but his pants weren’t torn.

It didn’t matter.  The Mzungu (white man) in the vehicle is in the wrong.  Bob said,  “This is going to cost us.”

As we checked on the biker’s well-being, a mob of about twenty men closed in.  That’s another fear.  African mobs can quickly turn violent.  

I’m glad Bob was there as my lawyer.  He was working hard to get the rider to our vehicle.  “We’re loading up this bike and taking it and him to the Police Station.”

He worked through the mob, got us back to the vehicle (our three interns were staring out the window slack-jawed.)

Another African came with us as interpreter/lawyer for the rider.

We arrived at the station and the bicyclist was introduced as “the victim.” 

I knew then we were in trouble.  I wanted to blurt out,  “For crying out loud, he ran into me and I was stopped.”

One look at Bob reminded me to keep quiet and pray.

Our next stop was a local clinic. (The lines at the local hospital were reportedly “hours long.”)

The clinician (it was actually a storefront pharmacy) greeted up cheerfully, especially “the victim.”   I noticed that he was slumping down in his chair, grabbing his ribs and head.  I expected him to become comatose as the pharmacist examined him.

She rolled up his pants leg to reveal a dime-sized scrape on his knee. I thought about whipping out my iPhone for a photo of the injury.

The Pharmacist/Clinician/Snake Oil Saleswoman).was rapidly grabbing medications from her shelf as the victim’s interpreter/lawyer scribbled down doses and costs. 

When she prescribed the antibiotic Amoxocylin.  Blunt Bob Calvert (whose wife is a RN) had had enough. “Great Scott, he doesn’t need an antibiotic.  You’re gonna kill him with all these meds!

She just smiled and continued to add to the list.

She had us over the barrel and knew it.

I thought of the acronym “AWA”   Africa Wins Again.

Africa was winning at the expense of our wallets.

 The African lawyer then began his work.  “Now, this man is a farmer and his injuries will keep him from working for about two weeks.” 

He wrote down  $200,000 Ugandan Shillings. (About $40 US dollars.  Most farmers make at most $1000 shillings per month.)

“Then there’s the bike.  It’ll cost . . . uh, about $20,000 for repair.”

The pharmacist chipped in.  “Then he’ll have to return for further consultations.”

My lawyer Bob hurriedly wrote a note listing all of the charges and absolving me (“the driver”) of all blame and future claims.

The victim couldn’t write, so his fingerprint was his signature. The lawyer and pharmacist signed as witnesses and we paid up.  (I had to borrow money from Bob.)

The total tab was about $300,000 Shillings.

We loaded back into the vehicle.  It had been about two hours and the interns were slowing roasting rotisserie-style in the hot vehicle.  But it seemed they were happier in there than the heat we were in.

Our moment of truth was our return to the police station.  We were at the mercy of their decisions.  They could impound our vehicle, ask for more money, or release us.

A white-uniformed traffic officer heard the story from the victim, as well as both lawyers.  I kept my mouth shut remembering the words of Proverbs (and Bob)  “Even a fool is thought to be wise when he is silent.”

The officer walked out to the bicycle and kicked its bald tires. He pressed the hand brakes. The bike had no brakes.

He spat and looked disgustedly at the victim, his lawyer, and entourage,  and said something to the effect of “You all are cheating these men.”

He glanced at us. “You can go.”   Quick-Stepping Bob Calvert led in a quick Arkansas-two-step toward our vehicle, managing to shake everyone’s hand in the process.

I was a step behind, hoping not to get left.

It was time to get out of Dodge before anyone changed their mind.

Bob drove this time. I glanced back for one last look at the victim, whom I now call “The richest dirt farmer in the whole West Nile District.” 

He seemed to be recovering rather quickly from his accident.

I believe I detected a smile. 

Maybe even a wink.

I didn’t care.  We were headed South and had lived to tell about it.

My fellow co-workers have had lots of fun with this incident.  Bob says most of them ask,  “Well, what did it cost Curt?”


They grin. “Could have been a lot worse.”

One of our leaders told me he’d been “hit by bicyclists” twice in one week.  Cost him money each time.

You’ll easily recognize me in our white 4WD Toyota Hillux* on the streets and roads of Uganda.  I’m the one driving in 2nd gear at 25 mph and honking his horn at every bike, boda-boda, goat, cow, child, , old woman, taxi, lorry, and bus.


The problem with being 57 years old is that you have lots of stories and more stories that link to a new story. 

Here goes.  You don’t have to read them all, but I’ve got to write them. They’re just too good not to share.

Notice that I make fun of lots of folks. I’m an equal opportunity needler.  Please also note that the one I skewer the most is a stumbling mumbling redneck named Curt.


See a video on what our mission vehicles can do.  Thank you Lottie Moon Offering for our vehicles that allow us to go to these difficult places! 

Watch out for that Tricycle.


This is a true story from about thirty-five years ago.

I was the umpire for a church league softball game.  It was between Texas Avenue and Shlloh Baptist at the old East Beauregard baseball field.

A Shiloh batter hit a high popup near the dugout.  The Texas Ave. third baseman settled in under it for the easy out.

A loud voice called out from Shiloh’s dugout. “Watch out for that tricycle.” 

Now, I’ve played baseball/softball all of my life and heard this catcall and its variations a thousand times.

I’ve never seen it work . . . until that night.

The Texas Ave. fielder stopped and looked down around his feet.  The ball bounced in foul territory.

 I was about twenty feet away. “Foul ball.”

The burly third baseball (he was a Fort Polk soldier) charged me.  “This is a church league.  Are you going to let them get away with that cheap trick?”

I was laughing too hard to answer, but I wasn’t laughing near as loudly as the Shiloh dugout.  Even the Texas Ave. fans were having a good time.

“You should call the batter out for that.”  I believe his anger was much embarrassment as anything. 

I called him by name.  (I refuse under pain of death to reveal either of the two principles in this story.)  “________, I cannot believe you fell for ‘watch out for that tricycle.’ ”

I returned to my safe place behind home plate.

“Let’s play ball.”




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