Despite being deaf, Denish Komakech, now a budding businessman in the East African country, Uganda, has beaten all odds by earning a living from transporting people using his motorbike.
Komakech has been in the motorcycle transportation business, locally known as boda boda, for three years now.
It is a job that he has come to love dearly right after he quit working as a casual laborer, at a local Pepsi Cola depot in the northern part of the country in Gulu district.
Komakech’s condition as a deaf person began at the age of two when he suffered from a severe case of measles, which eventually led to his hearing impairment. He was raised in a polygamous family where his father, who married two wives and had 13 children, could barely provide the necessary basic needs. As a result, Komakech faced a lot of hardship amidst stigmatization.
While still at school, he faced a lot of challenges when learning. At first, he could barely hear but when he became permanently deaf, he decided to drop out while in fifth grade at his primary school.
"I found it hard to learn and my teachers found it hard to teach me. That is why I left school. I also studied briefly at a school for the deaf, because my parents were financially struggling," Komakech said to The African Exponent through our sign interpreter. He added that it is at the same school that he met his wife.
"At first I worked as casual laborer at a Pepsi Cola depot but the work there was hard and most times workmates would cheat when it came to sharing our payment," he added.
Komakech used to earn a meager income totaling to 10,000 Ugandan Shillings (USD 10 dollars) daily as compared to 70,000 Ugandan Shillings (about 20 US dollars) that he currently earns from motorcycle taxi.
Just like taxi or cabs, boda boda are commonly used as transport means in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda and they are preferred because one can easily beat heavy traffic especially when running errands.
The name ‘boda boda’ is said to have been coined during the dictatorial regime of the late Ugandan president Idi Amin between 1971-1979.
Ugandans would flee from their country using motorcycles to avoid paper work at the border as they entered neighboring Kenya hence the word boda boda, which sounds like "border to border."
Presently, boda bodas are common in East Africa and they are a booming business for low-income earners.
Komakech is not willing to end his lucrative job anytime soon, despite lacking the ability to hear and also to engage in verbal communication, both attributes previously thought to be indispensable in the boda boda business.
How he began working as motorcycle taxi rider
Komakech bought his first motorcycle for Shs 2.5 million (USD 800 dollars) from the savings he made while working at Pepsi for 10 years.
Logically, one would not wish to be transported by a deaf driver or rider because it would be risky. You might ask yourself how a deaf motorcyclist would know if a vehicle is approaching or even when a vehicle is honking its horns.
Ironically, this is different in Komakech’s case. He makes good use of his side mirrors whenever he is riding. His charm and friendliness have won the hearts of his customers, a virtue that many have come to admire
"When I am riding, I try to make good use of my side mirrors to tell whether a vehicle is coming at us since I can’t hear the hooting of cars," he narrated.
When asked how he communicates with customers about their destinations, Komakech says his passengers either write down or direct him as they move along. Komakech also thinks people like him because he is a free and friendly person.
Since 2014 when he began working as a motorcyclist, he has been able to buy three motorcycles; one is operated by his brother while the other has been hired out to someone else.
Besides earning Shs 70,000 (about 20 US dollars) daily, Komakech pockets Shs 50,000 (13 US dollars) weekly from the person who works as transporter using his third motorcycle.
He has been able to buy a grinding machine at Shs 4m (1110 dollars) which is operated by his wife to supplement their household income.
"What we earn from the grinding machine is used to supplement my family’s income especially when we need to buy basic needs in our home," he said.
One of the biggest challenges is that at times Komakech gets cheated by some customers because he can’t speak, let alone bargain fares.
"Sometimes people refuse to pay and I can’t verbally respond or explain myself," he said.
In developed countries, for one to ride or drive when they are deaf, they would need to undergo assessment by the authorities to calculate the risks involved.
Unlike in those developed countries, in Uganda corrupt police officers in sometimes take advantage of Komakech and extort money from him because he is deaf.
"Every day, I have to save some money to pay off police officers on the way whenever they stop me because I fear that they might impound my motorbike," he added.
Komakech advises disabled persons to desist from lamenting that they are unable to work due to their physical deformities, let alone compete with their counterparts--able bodied people.
"Look at me, I am disabled but I can put food on my table for my family. I am better than many able-bodied people who complain that the [Ugandan] government has neglected them because they have no jobs," he boasted of his success with a smile.
Komakech has been able to buy four-hectares of land and he plans to construct houses for rent.
"I don’t want to ride a boda boda for all my life. In future, I will need to retire early a so that I can watch my children grow," he gestured.