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Sunday, 28 April 2013

From Zero to Zambia: a Riders for Health Adventure - Page 3

Written by Richard Warmsley
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Day 3 and our first full day of off-roading down to Moorings Farm campsite between Mazabuku and Monza,, the terrain was trickier than our first taste, and the pace picked up as we rode with a couple of the farmers. It was fantastic to reach out and touch the bushes as we rode by, passing through wooden villages and smiling, waving kids. 

At this point, I was up ahead marking a junction in the trail wondering where most of the group had gone. It’s a wonder I’d managed to stay on the right path, as I’d already proved to have a woeful sense of direction in the bush. This was a real highlight for me though: it was school home time, so in minutes I was surrounded by more and more children wanting to ask questions and laughing. I had them sit on the bike, try on the helmet, and I tried to learn about their villages and family with their few words of English. Mostly, they just seemed to want to laugh at this strange Englishman in funny clothes on a bike, and that was fine by me. 


The Next day we were heading down to Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made lake. The kids were out in force, waving and keeping us going in the 39C heat. It seemed word had gotten out that fifteen strange motorcyclists were about, as mobile phones were taking photos of us along the way. It’s amazing to see how widespread they are in rural Africa. Not only do they keep families close and increasingly connect people to the internet, but together with the bikes, they can make a big difference to health care—helping to get the right care to the right places at the right time.


On the way back, we had a fantastic experience, stopping in a small village. The children were dancing spontaneously and seemed to have endless energy, jumping up and down over and over. Marvin translates  they’re singing about riding a double decker bus, something they’ve never seen. Randy keeps the children entertained with his bike skills and we get a chance to interact and give some small gifts. Unfortunately, the lion puppet on the front of my bike seems to scare the kids more than it amuses!


The rest of the ride I got to use some of my skills from Wales, powering across a river bed and following the rockier path back to our accommodation. The varied terrain and ruts as well as the experience in the village and the stunning lake scenery definitely made this a highlight of the trip. Despite the sweatbox conditions, I didn’t want that afternoon’s ride to end.


Meeting the locals was made especially significant when we dropped in on the district health center the next day. The staff explains how they support care across the area, but as they talk, a motorcycle is propped up in the corner unused and missing a rear wheel. We were told that it was there last year too. This illustrated the point of Riders for Health perfectly. This center isn’t yet supported by Riders and this was exactly the kind of lack of maintenance skills and resources that originally inspired the founders of the charity to improve the reliability of transport. All the drugs and expert professionals in the world are no use if they can’t get to where they’re needed. Now we saw why Riders work was needed. The next day we headed out to see their work in the field. Riding along with the health care workers on the same bikes, on the same trails they use to do their job was a great way to appreciate the reality of getting between villages. As we wobbled through the sand and visited the health clinics, it was amazing to see what can be achieved with so little. And certainly humbling to see patients being cared for in a very basic environment, particularly those living with HIV without the advances in treatment available at home. It’s also exhilarating to be riding along and see the people, the simple homes and the colors. The bright blue and red of the earth in the sun creates an unforgettable palette. My GoPro records fantastic sharp images  but it doesn’t quite show the richness of everything your eyes take in. Nor does it show the concentration required to deal with the subtle changes on the ground, or the not-so-subtle deep ruts that sometimes appear quicker than you’d like!


Having negotiated more sand along a narrow country trail, our final stop was to see the Riders for Health team in action in a small village. In contrast to the friendly but slightly more reserved welcome in villages where Riders don’t yet operate, the warm warbling greeting was overwhelming and shows the difference that Riders is making. Witnessing an outdoor family planning session and seeing inside the basic “Women’s Club” hut showed how important the work is. On the road to Kozo we see the reality of trying to deliver reliable transport in Zambia. Every petrol station was out of fuel for us to prepare for the next day. In the late afternoon, local people were waiting in buses in the heat until more fuel was due in the early hours. 


The final day and the road to Livingstone; here was a chance for a last blast, and I loved trying to keep up with the front of the line as we bounced and bashed through ruts and pools of water at a speed that made me think more than once it was going to hurt if I flew off. Banging through four ruts in quick succession my feet left the pegs, and my bag flew off the back, flinging my camera straight into deep brown water. Ah well, it was almost worth it for the buzz, and at least it was at the end and the images were safe. 


On the smarter road to Livingstone we encounter various accident aftermaths and dead animals along the roadside. A reminder as we tuck ourselves in, and try to get some straight speed from the small bikes, that even Zambian tarmac can still be unpredictable. We settle into our relaxing lodges by the Zambezi and celebrate how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve learnt along the way. 


After an impressive walking safari with rhinos and elephants, it was time for one last ride. Having seen Victoria Falls, it was time to ride the bikes back to Riders for Health base in Livingstone. It was time to say goodbye to the Riders team, and our trusty local riders, the two Marvins. If I could have ridden that bike all the way home to Hertfordshire I would have been a happy man. Just as long as the sun was still shining and the kids would still be waving all the way.


(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Tuesday, 30 April 2013

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