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Sunday, 28 April 2013

From Zero to Zambia: a Riders for Health Adventure - Page 4

Written by Richard Warmsley
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Bikes as a Force for Good


My route home from Zambia was via an overnight stop in Johannesburg, back in the bustling, modern suburbs. A real contrast from when I last visited twenty years ago, but what struck me was seeing big bikes everywhere—it seemed like a culture shock from the small motorcycles that are the lifeblood of rural Africa. 


I have to admit to feeling pretty envious of the commuters there;  a South African summer has got to be a tad more reliable than a British one. But that’s the beauty of travel. I stopped a couple of South African BMW riders at the airport and made sure I spread the word about Riders, but I suspect they wondered why this strange English bloke was so fired up about it all! 


I used to find conventional holidays to be a disappointment.  You expect everything to be perfect relaxation or a huge party in an amazing setting and quite often, it doesn’t turn out how you expected. When you set foot in places that don’t work quite so simply, you expect things to go wrong, and they do, but that’s what makes it special—the sense of achievement, laughing about the mistakes, meeting people like you and people totally unlike you, seeing places that make you think differently about the things you take for granted. 


Before I went to Africa, I liked to think that I tried to keep up with what was going on in the world, at least some of the time. I’d been to South Africa to see family. I have friends whose family are from Nigeria. But I realized that often what was actually in my mind when I thought of Africa were the images I grew up with: famine, wars, injustice and the odd crackpot dictator. Imagine if all you’d ever seen of Britain were the riots last summer? 


I discovered that a group of strange looking motorcyclist aliens from another world can initially create some wariness amongst people, but mostly bikes do what bikes do all over the world. They have this strange power to make people want to come over and say hello, to ask what you’re up to and where you’re heading. 


It also makes you realize how the simplicity of bikes can be such a force for good—not only bring people together for a chat, but provide quick, reliable and affordable transport across the narrowest path, the trickiest terrain. Now that I’ve had a taste of what’s possible, I go back to my ‘real world’ for a while but I’m sure I’ll be back. 


Riders Experience Africa isn’t the kind of trip for those who want to do it all on their own, to revel in dealing with mechanical failures or uncooperative border police, and want to leave on an open-ended ticket to who knows where. In some ways, the whole point is quite the opposite - that you witness what a slick operation Riders for Health is - it’s their role to make sure transport is maintained well so it’s safe and reliable, that health care workers are trained to deal with varied conditions so that they arrive in one piece where they’re needed. 


It is a trip that gives you a great little adventure away from the obvious destinations. It’ll pull at your heartstrings, and leave you optimistic about what’s possible. It’s a trip that will challenge you, but the challenge is only partly about the riding itself and more about questioning what should matter in life and what you can do about it. If that sounds corny then so be it. It seems that bikes have an uncanny way of breaking down barriers. 


Back in the UK and I’m missing that AG200. Coming back to London’s winter greyness isn’t ideal when you’ve been used to riding every day in the technicolor landscapes of Africa, but at least I’ve had my fix of warmth to keep me going  from both the climate and the people. There can be few better ways to Experience Africa than to see how Africans are changing things for themselves with the help of a reliable set of wheels.


©Richard Warmsley



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

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