Friday, 24 February 2017

Isma’s Birthday Boda Surprise: A tiny tale to rejuvenate your faith in humanity

Each year February 17th marks Random Acts of Kindness Day – a day intended to encourage random acts all over the world. One week ago, I had hoped to unveil on pretty major random act (consisting of help from many others!) to one of my friends.

Nearly one month ago to the day, I found myself in Kampala, taking in the craft market with my visiting friend. In the middle of our stop, I received a phone call from my friend, and boda* driver, Isma. He was frantic, struggling to make words, and just at a loss. It turns out his bike – his only source of income – was about to be taken from him. Why, you might be asking yourself? Well, because most boda drivers actually rent their bikes from someone else. Isma, was one of those individuals.


Over the days that followed, I mulled over the situation. It weighed heavily on me, because he has been a good friend to me**, and I knew the impact his would have on, not only him, but his family. I knew I had to help him, but I also knew I didn’t have the necessary funds to buy him a new one, even if it were to be a loan. So, I turned to my go-to source of crowdfunding – GoFundMe – in hopes that I could enlist some friends, families and/or strangers to help fund a new bike for Isma; one that he would own himself.

This likely look familiar to some of you...
Two days before Random Acts of Kindness Day, Isma celebrated his 27th birthday. The plan was to hopefully raise enough money by then so I could surprise him with the news that I had raised the money to get him a bike. The campaign received a bit of attention, but on the day of, we were quite a bit short. I put out a final plea to get at least $300 more, as I was able to line up a small loan for the remainder of the balance. This was quickly fulfilled, and the next morning I was all set to take Isma to pick out a bike.

February 16th – I called Isma just before 9AM and asked him to come pick me up. When he arrived, I handed him a handmade birthday card (that looked similar to those that I made when I was 5, less the stickers and googly eyes!). He read it aloud, and in the moments that followed, I observed pure joy. The contents of the card read a donation has been made towards your bike, which he was pretty pleased about. BUT, when he turned it over, and saw the details about the remainder being in loan form, he couldn’t believe it. He was shaking, smiling, and just genuinely happy to receive this news! I had to explain to him, that we were now going to go to the bank, get the money and then go purchase his new boda…or so we thought.

It turns out while I’m out-of-country, my withdrawal limit is quite low, so I wasn’t able to take out what was needed. But, this didn’t deter his excitement.

February 17th – I was able to get all the funds needed, and we made our way to the bike shop. Isma proudly walked in and informed the clerk that he was there to purchase a boda. This is when we were informed that the bike he needed was on backorder and would likely take a week or two for them to get more. We were also informed that we had to pay for one at that time, so that we could ensure he received one from the next shipment. No problem. We paid up, and were on our way.

Now, at this point nearly a week had passed. On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Isma telling me that he’d just heard from the bike shop and that his bike would be ready for pick up first thing in the morning. He was also given a pick up time or 9:30AM. I rearranged a meeting so we could go down together and pick it up.

When he arrived the next morning, he was pumped! He made our way to the shop, but were given the unfortunate news that the shipment was delayed. We were told to come back at 3PM, which of course was about the same time my meeting would likely be concluding. Either way, no worries, we were both just happy that it was on its way.

It is at this point that I should probably explain why it was foolish of us to be excited about these given times… you see, it wasn’t a hey! Your bike has arrived come pick it up phone call, but rather a we think it might be in Jinja at this time kind of deal... So, you will no doubt be surprised when 3PM rolled around, and we were once again at the bike shop being told that by 5PM the shipment would be in. I gave the guy working a bit of a light-hearted hard time, but emphasized that I was not impressed… Buuuuttttt, Isma took it all in stride. He brought me back to my flat, and we both carried on with our days, waiting for the confirmation phone call, so we wouldn’t have to make another pointless trip.

At 5:40PM, I received a phone call from Isma, after trying to get in touch with him to confirm about the bike. It was at this time that he told me the shipment hadn’t actually left Kampala, but that by 8:30AM, it would be in Jinja, ready for pick up by 9.

February 24th (today) – I called Isma at around quarter-to-9. He was already at the bike shop…still no bodas. This time, it was 11AM that we were given as the time of arrival. I spoke with the same clerk on the phone, and made sure he was aware that things were gonna get ugly if it weren’t there this time. From here, I made my way to a meeting, and waited impatiently to hear word from Isma…which came around 10:30AM. He was on his way to go pick up his boda!!!

By noon, I still hadn’t heard anything, and needed to move from my current spot. He was at the bike shop still sorting out paper work, so he wasn’t able to come get me for a little while. I opted to take another guy, but told him to call me when he was done.


At 1:00PM – less than an hour later – I received a phone call from Isma informing me that he was outside my gate. The excitement in his voice was unbelievable! I quickly gathered my things and went out to see my friend, who I found proudly standing by his bike – filled with so much excitement he couldn’t even stand still! From here we took a little joyride to make sure it worked, of course, and then we parted ways.

Taadaaa! A new boda! 
And it even came with a new helmet! Safety first...
I have to confess, this was all pretty amazing – from the many kind folks who donated their hard earned money, or passed on the campaign page and information, to getting to witness, first hand, just how appreciative and thrilled Isma was to hear this news. I have never witnessed anyone so happy or excited, as Isma was last week. I wasn’t able to capture it all, but it was truly both overwhelming and inspiring. To see a grown man be rendered speechless, moved almost to tears, and just simply appreciative was nothing short of incredible. It made this whole experience even more exciting (and those frustrations even more frustrating!).

I should also note, that before the joyride we stopped in quickly to visit his mother, so he could show her his bike. I was greeted with a warm hug*** and a heartfelt thank you for making this possible. Both Isma, his Mom, and the rest of his family showed such gratitude, I cannot even put it into words.

So, on behalf of Isma, thank you – to all of you that contributed – for helping to make this happen! You’ve truly changed a person’s life! Donations can still be made, which will be put against the loan. To do so, click here.

-the (humbled) Orange Canadian

*A motorcycle taxi that is a common form of transport throughout the country.
**But also, because losing his bike meant having to seek out a new driver, and that would have been inconvenient for me.
***And not just because its 30°C outside…