Changing kids' lives from the seat of a bike
The Founders of TWV
May 1999, India
The number of people really started to make an impact on me when we were biking through the northeast province of Uttar Pradesh, India - one of the poorest and most populated provinces of India. We were never more than 10 feet/3 meters away from another person walking, biking or otherwise using the single lane road we traveled. The impact of overpopulation on the social and environmental scale is huge. The towns and villages were characterized by masses of people existing on the main street - selling their wares, eating, drinking, bathing and sleeping. At night wooden framed beds with rope woven mattresses lined the roadsides. In the mornings people bathed, toileted and ate in the same proximity.
June 1999, Cambodia
"The incidents are random, you know, high-jacking, robbery, kidnapping, and there is no way to know when it will happen - sometimes days, weeks, with nothing." Those words hung in my mind as we traveled further into northern Cambodia. I was scared. People we passed stared at us blankly. I felt like a beacon in the dark Cambodian forest. We felt uncomfortable and I sensed that the other passengers knew our discomfort. We passed several checkpoints (militant group outposts) - one or two people, boys of 15 years of age to men, armed and un-uniformed. The guy riding on top of our truck would pass off a handful of currency, and we would drive on.
My nerves were closing in on my sanity. I held on, ducked when we passed checkpoints and made little or no eye contact with the others. I felt more comfortable when it started to rain and a big blue tarp was pulled over our heads - making us less visible. I felt like a cat hiding under a low table - very aware about what was going on around me but very quiet and still. When a man wearing jungle camouflage carrying a machine gun jumped into the back of the truck and sat with his side to Tanya, I withdrew all thoughts of my physical existence, I was hoping to make myself and Tanya invisible to the world around us. We sat huddled under the tarp, hiding our hair and skin. This was definitely a sketchy situation. Who knows if the man saw us as he got in; but I did not want to be noticed. Tanya stayed crouched over her legs with her arms tucked close to her sides. She was next to the guy I was hoping would not notice us.
As it got darker, all I could see from my position under the tarp was Tanya crouched over, the gun's handle and bullet clip near her, and the reflection of the tail light on the bike tires spinning as the trees and wind brushed by. An elderly woman's closed eyes and Tanya's hand on my knee for balance was the only comfort I had. It seemed like forever and the stress was intense. I do not know how long the man with the gun rode with us. We stopped, the man jumped out and we drove on.
July 1999, Lao P.D.R.
After the extremely rugged roads of Cambodia, roads in Lao P.D.R. were a breeze, even the 125mi/200km stretch of orange dirt road under construction. No militant groups or security concerns either. In both Cambodia and Lao we found ourselves traveling in the most rural conditions we'd seen yet, and areas that were not used to travelers by bicycle cruising (or jolting) through. We camped out occasionally in schools, empty buildings and quite a few times we were invited into villagers' homes. We've become quite accustomed to not communicating in English and developed good basic Lao and Cambodian vocabularies - hello, goodbye, thank you and please, how much, and some numbers. People were very welcoming and kind. Amazing hospitality.
October 1999, Indonesia
On our first day back on the bikes after our much-needed rest, we were invited to have lunch with an entire village of people preparing for a temple dedication ceremony. We just happened to be passing by when a group of men invited us over. Women were preparing decorative flower, fruit and ornamental offerings; men were preparing food -- whole pigs on a spit and other meat skewered and grilled over open fires; children were helping out where they could. Everyone was doing something. It took a full day to prepare for the temple dedication ceremony that would take place the following day.
A 19-year-old Balinese boy took us to his home and introduced us to his family. His dad was a schoolteacher and his mom ran a small convenience shop out of the house. They invited us to stay at their house that night. Dony and his family were very generous with what they could share -- a home, food and warm openness. We shared a dinner of small fried fish from a stream, eggs and rice with them, met their extended family, and slept in the shelter of their home.