I was dubious about joining Bike Zambia for two primary reasons. The first was that I am not someone who would be considered athletic and didn’t even own a bicycle (I actually hadn’t ridden one since my sea foam green ten-speed that I would ride with the neighbor girls when I was in grade school, which was decades ago).
The second was that I have been working in what could be classified as ‘international development’ for quite a long time. I have seen what works in a sustainable and empowering way (co-creating and cultivating local solutions, building the skills and expertise of the local population, hand-outs in emergencies only) and what doesn’t (ex-pats coming in with their own ideas on how to solve problems, creating solutions without ensuring the skills and resources are there to sustain them, and giving handouts like books, clothes, etc.). The latter, though usually well intentioned, often does much more harm than good in the long term and creates, then continues a cycle of dependency to the detriment of those it is meant to benefit.
Zambia is a bittersweet story...
It is a country filled with beautiful people. Zambians will do any for you and expect nothing in return except a warm handshake and a smile, but the life expectancy is 37 years of age, one in six kids are orphaned, and 14 percent of the population is infected with the HIV virus.It is a country of amazing scenic beauty, exotic wildlife and unbelievable sunsets, yet the countryside is being raked of trees as people struggle to obtain fuel for cooking.It is a country where life is simple and amassing material possessions is unimportant, yet the outside world is introducing cell phones, cars and development in an uncontrolled manner.I am still processing everything that I have experienced after visiting the beneficiaries of our fundraising, cycling across the country, talking with the Zambian people in the local villages, and experiencing its nature beauty at a remote bush camp and Victoria Falls.
After long flights and long layovers our team of riders all met up in Zambia at the Eureka Lodge. We had an easy afternoon of recovery to enjoy and used the time to get better acquainted. It was a nice way to ease into what would be a busy schedule for the remainder of our trip.
When Bike Zambia launched three years ago we decided to partner with World Bicycle Relief. This has allowed us to distribute hundreds of bikes to Doctors, Nurses and Students who cover great distances to see patients or get to school. The bikes are almost indestructible one-speed set ups that are perfect for thriving in a really tough environment.
The first time I passed a school sign, I laughed thinking it was funny that the Ministry of Education had decided on a motto and mission statement, then painted it on all of the school signs. As I kept riding, I noticed that the mottos and mission statements kept changing. Things like: “Preparing students to live a full life” or “Education is the key to destiny” and many more. These mottos always make me smile no matter how hard the road is getting. The signs tell me about what the community deems as important for its children, and what their hopes are for their future. Schools associated with churches have more faith based mottos, others seem to just be one word sentences stringed together like: Mind Growth Strong Survival. Every time I see one, I think of how interesting it would be to have these things painted in big letters on the road signs in the United States. These are little glimpses of peoples hopes for their children, and hopes for the future of their communities and it tells me so much about the communities we bike through, even when we can’t stop and talk with the people who live there.
After hours of flying around the world, Bike Zambia riders finally found themselves in the same location for the first time on Thursday afternoon! A quick stop at ShopRite for groceries and toiletries and a quick lunch at Spur, we braved Lusaka traffic to make our way to our new (temporary) home at Eureka Lodge. Before our vehicles could even park we saw Zebras!
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner cooked by Sean and his amazing team, had a couple beers at the Eureka Lodge Bar, caught up on our World Cup Soccer (go Portugal! and also, sorry guys. You’ll get ‘em next year.) and finally washed off our plane rides. By the time we were ready for bed, we were READY for bed.
Friday morning it was off to Misisi Catchment area. We were fortunate enough to be invited to visit the homes of three students who attend the school run by the Sishemo Education Trust and meet their families. As usual the kids wanted nothing more than to be near us and hold our hands. High fives were hugely popular, and they LOVE seeing photos of themselves.
Saturday found our Bike Zambia riders visiting CIDRZ in Lusaka to speak with peer educators about the work they do with HIV positive teens.
When one is diagnosed with HIV, taking care to follow a strict antiretroviral routine is the key to staying healthy. Logistically, this means taking 1-3 pills every morning and every night. Failure to do this regularly, can cause more problems than not taking your drugs at all. CIDRZ recognizes that HIV positive teenagers are the group that is most likely to laps in their treatment, so they provide peer educator led support groups. Many of the teens who lead the groups have been in support groups themselves since they were young and help teens like themselves improve their self esteem, encourage them to follow their prescription regimens and remind them that with proper care (self care and medical care) testing positive for HIV is not a death sentence. The teens we spoke with were eloquent, inspiring and downright adorable. Their zest for life is contagious and reminds us that with the right attitude, support and care, anything is possible and nothing is to much for people to overcome.
Ride Day 1! Our first day on bikes was a huge success!
We started off on a bit of tarmac but quickly turned onto dirt roads that lead us past remote Zambian villages. Our small group is learning the benefits of sturdy bikes very quickly. While riding on paved roads is only slightly more challenging than it is in the US, dirt roads are absolutely unforgiving and often full of sand.
Dirt, dirt and more dirt.
Today was the longest of our dirt road days. Sand, huge rocks and potholes made the day a huge challenge, but the villages, views and locals made every inch worth the effort.
There is no single experience that matches riding your bike down unmapped Zambian roads. No amount of uneven road can take away the joy that comes with huge groups of children running to the road when they see you coming. Before you know it you’re surrounded on all sides by smiling faces. Hugs, handshakes, smiles and high fives are just the physical manifestation of the absolute joy that radiates from these kids. Riding away from that is hard to do, but makes the next few bumpy kilometers feel like riding on clouds. Or at very least, smooth roads.
Monze - Choma approximately 117km
After yesterday’s rock and sand filled roads we were THRILLED to find ourselves completely on tarmac today. While “flat” might not be the word to describe the terrain, the hills provided amazing views that made the climbs worth climbing.
Approximately 110km. This morning started with a short road transfer through Choma. Rather than ride 140km to Lake Kariba (a challenge for even the most experienced cyclists) we began our day with “undulating flats” that led to some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve seen so far. The hills and forests between Choma and Lake Kariba are lush and green with incredible views for miles around. Long long downhill sections made the ride even more fun and provided cyclists with a chance to get out of their saddles and rest their tired bums.
Approximately 0 kilometers. After four days of hard riding, we had the pleasure of having a rest day on Lake Kariba!
Before lunch a group of us took a trip to the Crocodile farm near the lodge we camped at. While the “farm” idea didn’t sit well with many of us, after touring the farm and learning how the farm worked with local authorities, we were far more comfortable with the whole operation. In addition to employing over three hundred local Zambians, the farm breeds crocodiles for skins and meat. The part we liked best, however, was their agreement to provide crocs for release into Lake Kariba should the population of wild crocs fall below normal numbers, combining income generating business and employment with local wildlife conservation efforts.
Approximately 78 kilometers.
Sand day. Oh, sand day. How do we love you, sand day? In various ways and to varying degrees. Riding a mountain bike through eight inch deep sand is either something you love, or hate. A few of our riders had experience in sand, but many of us were practicing the many techniques our amazing guide Henk suggested for us as we struggled through rocky roads, deep sandy patches and the baking African sun.
Approximately 76 kilometers
The final day of riding is always bitter sweet. The sense of accomplishment the group enjoys is incomparable, but the knowledge that our time is almost at an end is unavoidable. After a short few days of intense physical challenge and emotional bonding, there is no way to prepare for that impending trip home. And so we celebrate. A few kilometers before the end we stop and regroup, making sure we ride onto the ZimZam bridge side by side. (The bridge spans the river that divides ZIMbabwe and ZAMbia)
The day after finishing a week long bike ride from Lusaka to Livingstone must have been a little anti-climactic, right? Oh no. Our riders took the morning to explore Livingstone, some had breakfast at Victoria Falls, others went hunting (with cameras) for the white rhino (one of only 7 left in Zambia) and others simply took the opportunity to sleep in and rest their weary muscles.
After lunch, however, it was off to the Bike Zambia sponsored Grassroots Soccer Tournament! Six local youth football teams came together to compete for prizes and to raise awareness for HIV testing and support services offered by Grassroots Soccer. Grassroots not only organizes the tournaments, they provide the support and testing available at the tournaments as well.
After over a week of packed schedules full of beneficiary visits, long ride days and activities, our Bike Zambia riders finally found themselves with one full day with nothing planned. The next day, the first of our riders would be leaving (early) for the states and our group would never find themselves together, like this, again. Rather than spend the day relaxing, sleeping or packing, we all decided to go on safari together.
Chobe National Park is in Botswana, and requires that visitors from Zambia pass through two border stations on the way there, and the same two on the way back. Luckily for us, this happens all day long, every single day. The lines may be long, but they move quickly.
Just a few layovers, brief cramped plane naps, and minor delays later – the Bike Zambia team arrived together for the first time in Lusaka yesterday afternoon. With barely a moment to rest, we piled into a bus to head to our first beneficiary visit, World Bicycle Relief (WBR), to see the factory and hear about the programs from country director, Dave Neiswander. Our visit was short in anticipation of a longer field visit the following afternoon.
Following a 6:30 departure time a bus transfer outside of the busy Lusaka city streets, the team regrouped and prepared for our first full day of riding. And a full day it was planned to be, with a solid 108 kilometers to start us off. As this day was part of the updated route since Bike Zambia 2012, the whole crew was is for a brand new ride and a whole new surprise of just how hilly Zambia can get!
After a well deserved sleep in Siavonga, the group awoke early for a visit to the Lake Kariba dam wall, just a few kilometers outside of the town. The dam wall completed in 1960, spans an impressive 617 meters in width and boasts over a 120 meter drop – not to mention, it holds back the world’s largest reservoir by volume!
With a short leg on the paved road before heading onto the dirt, we made our way out of Mazabuka for our next stop, Monze. As promised, we really did turn off the main traffic route and made our way along the unmapped dirt roads, encountering deep sandy patches, rocky bumps, 90 degree temperatures, and the occasional cattle crossing. Cycling in this terrain proved much different than most riders’ usual training on road bikes. And though challenging, it was undeniably one of the most beautiful days of the ride – allowing for an unique experience of the countryside and endless opportunity to stop and interact with villagers.
hough today’s ride had its highs and lows, with a slightly smoother paved road stretching over 100 kilometers, this update is more appropriately about someone we met along the route, Mulenga.
As many of you are aware, Bike Zambia is a ride to support a number of beneficiaries who are working to address HIV/AIDS and poverty in Zambia. One of these main organizations is World Bicycle Relief, who we support through the Bicycles for Educational Empowerment Program (BEEP), the STEPS/OVC caregivers program, and a revolving microfinance bicycle lending program through Vision Fund.
With today’s ride came some milestones. The route itself was not furthering the team along our way to Livingstone, but instead was a small detour to see the beautiful countryside of Zambia – ending at the shores of Lake Kariba. The team completed our longest day of riding yet, 110 kilometers.
Amidst a day full of off-road riding, hot afternoon sun, and just a few too many falls into the deep sand, we stopped in a small village called Siachatema. For those of us who did the trip last year, this was a village that we eagerly awaited. We had been very warmly welcomed last year and given a tour of the town. So to our great joy, one of the village leaders, David, not only warmly welcomed our group once again, but remembered Bike Zambia from the previous ride and had photos that one of our riders last year had emailed him of our visit.
With a mix of excitement and regret to be finishing the ride, the team embarked on our last day of cycling into Livingstone. Compared to the majority of our +100 kilometer days, the 60 kilometer ride felt like a walk in the park and brought us into the city before noon.
Before heading to the falls, the group made a stop at Maramba Health Clinic to see the work of one of our beneficiaries, CIDRZ (Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia). As the clinic was very busy seeing patients, our visit and tour, though short, was very insightful and important for the group to see first-hand. The clinic, with only one physician and a staff of several counselors and nurses, sees well over a hundred patients each day. In addition to HIV/AIDS care, the clinic concentrates heavily on maternal care and tuberculosis. Within the HIV/AIDS initiatives, the clinic sees patients regularly for HIV testing, counseling, and close treatment monitoring – especially for the prevention of mother to child transmission.
After a much appreciated morning to sleep in past 5:30, the team planned a morning with our final beneficiary, Grassroot Soccer (GRS), at a soccer tournament. The group’s contribution to GRS was to host their first ever VCT (Voluntary HIV Counseling and Testing) tournament in Livingstone – a new region that they are in the process of expanding to.
My Bike Zambia adventure continues after successfully raising over $7800, thanks to all of my generous donors. Your support is greatly appreciated. Bike Zambia 2016 in it’s fifth year has raised over $165,000 this year, and over $750,000 in the past five years fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Visit my blog and come along with me as we travel to Zambia and cycle 325 miles across the country from the capital city of Lusaka to Livingstone learning about the culture, customs and people of Zambia, and visit our benefactors. I lost my iphone/camera in Cape Town, so I would like to thank all my fellow riders for sharing their photos with me, so I can share them with you.
The Bike Zambia Team 2016 consisted of thirty adventurous riders, who cycled 325 miles in seven days from the capital city of Lusaka to Livingstone on rural roads. We were supported by Thorn Tree Safari. The owners, Shawn and Claire, and four support persons moved us across Zambia with a lead car, two vans, a portable kitchen, tents, food, supplies and moral support. We experienced rural villages, clinics, and remote bush country as we cycled on paved, packed dirt, and loose sandy roads. We cycled by day and camped under the stars at night. All meals were served outdoor.
The Zambian people were wonderful and welcoming, the sunsets unbelievable, the food was fantastic, and we were patriotically surprised with a Fourth of July sheet cake. We were cheered on and meet at every intersection, home, and school by the locals. All were curious to talk to us. They were as eager to learn about us as we were to meet them.
It is a country filled with beautiful people, who will do any for you and expect nothing in return except a warm handshake and a smile, one in six kids are orphaned and 16 percent of the population has HIV/AIDS.
It is a country of amazing scenic beauty, exotic wildlife and unbelievable sunsets, yet the countryside is being raked of trees as people struggle to obtain fuel for cooking.
It is a country where life is simple and amassing material possessions is unimportant, yet the outside world is introducing cell phones, cars and development in an uncontrolled manner.
I am still processing everything that I have experienced after visiting the beneficiaries of our fundraising, cycling across the country, talking with the Zambian people in the local villages, and experiencing its nature beauty at a remote bush camp and Victoria Falls.