Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why don’t Africans ride bikes?

In Botswana I am the only person I know who rides a bike.  I don’t believe I’ve seen a single other person riding a bike since I moved there.  Of course, riding a bike in Gaborone is really taking your life in your hands because the drivers act as if they are racing in Formula One, while simultaneously competing in the slalom event at the Olympics as they duck in and out of tiny spaces between cars, and growling the entire way.  Batswana are very friendly people, and never really in a rush.  But put them behind the wheel of a car and suddenly it’s the running of the bulls- they are angry and moving like there is no tomorrow.

Here in Uganda I haven’t seen anyone riding a bike either.  However, it is important to note the emphasis in that last sentence was on the word riding.  I haven’t seen anyone riding a bike here.  Of course, I’ve seen tons of bikes.  Being pushed.  No, people don’t ride bikes here, they push them.  But, let’s be clear, they don’t push them for fun, they actually have a reason to push them.  Typically the bikes are heavily laden with giant loads of stuff.  That stuff ranges from multiple banana plants, plastic crates filled with glass soda bottles or even building materials.  Hauling is what bikes are used for in this region, not recreation.  Of course, when I see this I tend to wonder why a wheelbarrow or dolly or even a stroller might not be more efficient, but I haven’t taken these musings any further.

Today I found out why people push bicycles instead of riding them.  Because riding them is grueling.  You know in the movies about Africa when you see those dirt roads with rolling hills and banana trees growing along the side?  Those romantic dirt hills might as well be mountains.  Since they aren’t tarred there are a lot of loose rocks you battle, along with the mud from the rainy season which we are currently in the midst of.  All the while children are emerging from their houses to wave, shouting, “Hello muzungu (white person)” as you are huffing and puffing, praying you will make it up the hill without passing out or falling over.  The good news is, apparently my Mt. Kilimanjaro training has paid off.  My tour guide told me he almost never makes it the whole way through a tour without someone having to dismount and walk their bike up a hill.

After four hours navigating through Kampala, I finished my ride covered head to foot in dirt and exhausted, but very happy.  The ride itself was great and it was fun to see the city from another angle.  As part of the tour we visited a primary school.  It was probably the smallest school I had ever seen and was responsible for educating nearly 800 students.  The thing I liked the most about the school was the fact there was a poster of African leaders in one of the classrooms.  Take a look at the picture and then tell me which one doesn’t belong:

If it didn’t strike you right a way here’s a hint: Look in the top left hand corner. Was anyone else out there surprised to find out Barack Obama, President of the United States, is considered an Africa leader?  I know, shocked me as well.

We also went to the fish market where I got to see them auctioning off live fish:

As well as cleaning and preparing fish:

I also got to try jackfruit. Jackfruit is found in some parts of Southeast Asia, but it is also in Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon and Mauritius.  It takes similar to a pineapple, but not as sweet.  I love pineapple, but I think if given a choice I would opt for the jackfruit:

Since Kampala is huge I couldn’t see the entire thing by bike.  At the market I got to see lots of women cleaning grasshoppers before frying them.  Here are some “cleaned,” pre-fried grasshoppers:

Then we ended the tour by taking a boat across Lake Victoria:

Overall it was a great tour and I’m glad I did it. Of course, next time I might take the time to think about the logistical feasibility before I commit to something like this.  Ok, who am I kidding?  No, I probably won’t.  I’ll just go and have fun away.  Speaking of which, tomorrow I’m doing a boda boda tour.  Fingers crossed that goes off without a hitch.

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