Changing kids' lives from the seat of a bike
The Founders of TWV
November 1998, Egypt
The first two days were spent in Cairo trying to figure out some of the mere basics of traveling - finding a supermarket and learning how to bargain for the price of everything. We also learned how to get around with public transportation. It is an awkward feeling to get on a bus and know where you want to go but not know when you have arrived at that destination. Most signs and bus numbers were in Arabic. Markets and restaurants were not apparent as we were used to seeing them in the Western world and the noise pollution and congestion was so great that it was impossible to feel at ease. Beyond the bustle of Cairo, a .felucca. sail-boat trip up the Nile put us in touch with the countryside: a blaring mosque at night amplifying the announcement of a wedding, large men straddling scrawny donkeys, and the bronze glow of the setting sun.
December 1998, Kenya
Biking in Kenya was not easy. The paved roads are in terrible condition and the traffic is horrific. The "Lonely Planet Guide to East Africa" suggests that anyone biking in Kenya must be suicidal.
Adventurous is not the right word to describe our experience, and I can say I would not do it again. Large trucks and buses rarely gave us the space we needed to feel comfortable on the road; the exhaust pollution made our eyes burn and clothes smell; drinking water was not easily available; food stores had a very limited supply of even the basics such as rice, pasta or oatmeal, and finding a safe and secure place to sleep required talking to several people before heading in any direction. Needless to say, our original plans changed as we traveled further away from Nairobi. Any given day biking in Kenya can be described as the following: shanty, shack towns built of corrugated sheet metal, scrap wood and plastic tarps; grown men, women and children sitting, walking, squatting and laying along the road side; most people under 20 years of age; some, mostly women, carrying goods to a market or working in the fields with infants on their backs; great numbers of people just watching the traffic go by; children running after us saying, "Give me one bob (like a penny), give me candy, give me, give me, give me anything."
Many people ask us what has been our hardest day or toughest situation. I would have to say that on any given day, if the going gets rough, we stop and find a place to stay for the night. This journey is to be fun and enjoy ourselves and that is how we go day to day. In Kenya, though, we did not always have the option to stop when the going got tough. Some days we biked over 75mi/120km to get to our destination - indoors. This country was not one to take chances in.
December 1998, Malawi
At the Council Rest House in Lilongwe, Malawi, we stepped out of our secured room to nourish ourselves. It had been a long day. Poor maps, pouring rain, muddy markets and not-so-kind eyes .eyeing. our sun-bleached, mud-covered panniers. During the fifteen minutes we enjoyed a delicious dinner of .nsema. (pounded manioc), spicy chicken, greens and hot sauce, our room had been scouted out and broken into. Luckily we had packed and locked our bags individually and placed them inside one of our large bike travel bags and locked it, wedged inside a bathroom closet. Our bikes were in the room locked to the toilet fixture and everything was about as safe as we thought it could be, with one exception: our short wave, AM/FM radio was packed in last-minute at the top of the final locked bag, not deep inside as it should have been. A lesson was learned at the expense of our radio connection to the world around us. We were lucky that was all that was taken.
Rest and relaxation came the day we rode to Lake Malawi. It was unbelievably hot 113F/45C and we were challenged by roller coaster hills against the wind most of the 75mi/120km. We cycled with a Malawian man who was traveling to see his relatives. He made much better time on the down hills, but walked up the hills. Our multiple-geared mountain bikes allowed us to catch him on the up-hills. We traveled on in this odd fashion for miles, and finally met and shared our snack of fruit under the rare shade of a sparse tree. Mid afternoon he cycled off on a non-descript dirt path, towards the relatives' village, I suppose. Once at the lake, we sat for hours in hand-carved, long-back Malawian chairs, sipping cold drinks and watching hippos swimming near the shore. The day passed and we slept in a small hut near the lakeshore. It felt wonderful to be so relaxed in a foreign place.
At the Mai Tsalani Hotel in Salima, Malawi we stayed in the "Superior" suite for US$5 including a fan and towels for an in-room tub and shower. It was a bit more than we had been paying for accommodations, but we thought it would give us a more secure feeling. Not so. Long after we had gone to sleep, with our bags safely locked away and our bikes locked together blocking the door from the inside, there were several loud knocks at the door. "Who is it? What do you want?" I asked. In broken English the reply came, "We are police. Please open the door. We need to talk to you." I had bargained some great prices for some wooden artwork from a street market outside of Salima, but that was no crime that I knew of. Opening a hotel door at night in any place in the world is not smart and I really did not want to in Malawi. "What do you want?" I asked. "Just open the door. We are police and need to see your travel documents," was the reply. I was not opening this door for anyone. I asked, "How do I know you are police? Show me some identification under the crack in the door." A moment later a very fake looking identification came under the door and I was not convinced. I said, "Go outside, around the building in front of the barred window to my room so that I can see you are police." The reply was more hostile: "Open the door!" I said,"NO!" A few minutes later I looked outside the window and there was one man in a uniform, one man with a machine gun and another man dressed in plain clothes. I still did not know what I should do. They returned to the door and knocked. I opened the door just a crack, with the bikes lodged between the door and myself. Tanya had her pepper spray ready. I had in one hand my pepper spray and in the other our plane tickets and travel documents. As the door cracked open, one man sighed and said, "Oh, you are American?" He said he understood my hesitation for not opening the door. He took a quick glance at our papers and said good night. Oh, the joys of traveling!
February 1999, South Africa
Spending nearly two months in South Africa helped us understand the problems that are facing a country where a small minority once ruled over a larger majority of people. Hospitality reached out and grabbed us by surprise. What incredible friendships we made. We met South Africans from all walks of life: businessmen, teachers, farmers, plumbers, electricians, a professional surfer, train engineers, recovering drug addicts, and retired people. These people welcomed us into their homes, eager to share their stories, their lives, and their perspectives on their country. Some general feelings we heard voiced were: caution and uncertainty for the "new" government; lower perceived educational standards; unskilled workers being moved into positions they are not qualified for; and no consequences for crime. But also, there was a general feeling of optimism and hope for the future. South Africa was a continuously educational field trip, and holds a special place in our hearts.