Thursday, 8 September 2016

I Want To Ride My Bicycle.

Once again we have woken up without power. But since it was a day off we had lots of time to get things worked out. We were suppose to go and by bicycles and then go for a retreat at Lake Malawi but the place that we were going to stay was booked and we had to change plans. 
The good news is that we could still get the bicycles. 
A little background on the bikes. Bikes are a convenient and less expensive mode of transportation in Malawi. They are a way to end the cycle of poverty for some people. It can turn a 2hr walk to a job into a 30min communte. When Cathy was telling me about the rides back and forth to the clinics and the shopping and errands that we would need to do, all I could think was that have a bike would be very convenient for our team. We could then leave it and give it as a life line to someone in the community. When I asked her about it, she said that she couldn't bring bikes and that we would need about $100 US to buy them in Malawi. She wasn't sure we would have the funds to do that with everything else that was needed. We would also have to preorder them. I asked her if I raised the funds myself a month before we left, could we by bicycles? She said yes. 
8 years ago at this very time, I was finishing a cross continent cycling tour called Sea To Sea that had taken 9 weeks to go from Seattle, WA to Jersey City, NJ through Canada and the US. I did it with over 100 other cyclists who all raised over 10,000 to support World Renew projects that end the cycle of poverty. I knew that there was no other group of people that understood the joy of having a bicycle and the importance of giving a hand up for some one to move forward. I got on Facebook and put out the call to them, asking 10 riders to give $20US to buy bicycles for this outreach. I was right and in 24hours I had the money we needed. It was great to call Cathy and say "Order the bikes, we have the money." so quickly. She was amazed. Two weeks later she was in Switzerland with her sister's Girl Guide group and told them what the Sea To Sea group had done. They were so inspired that they gave her enough money to buy another bike!
After yesterday's emotional rollercoaster, I really needed something special to happen today. Buying the bike in the name of Sea To Sea was going to be that. We loaded into the van to meet Silas at the shop that he had arranged to get the bikes from. Now, I have to admit. When I had pictured buying bikes, I figured we would be buying very good, re-build, refurbished ones. Which is great and fine and would do exactly what we needed. But to my surprise, we pulled up to a new bike shop. Silas said to wait in the car and he would negociate a price and then come and get us. A few minutes later, Silas was back. The price would be $47,000 kwacha, how many did we want? That was about $70US not $100. (Just an aside-Your thinking that's a great deal for a new bike! But remember, when you work for $3000 kwacha a day- in US equivalent, that is a $3100 bike)With the funding we had, we could buy 5 bike not 3. Silas, do you know 5 people who would benefit from a bicycle? 5!?!?!? I know a lot but I will have 5 people blessed with this gift. Come in and pick out your bicycles!
As we walked through the door, Karen pointed to a pink one in the doorway and said that looks like yours, will you pick that one? I laughed and said that I liked the basket and the streamers would look great on it but it probably isn't the most practical to leave behind. No, we picked the standard bike but with all the assessories like the back rack, headlight, tire pump, kick stand and bell. Those are usually things someone would have to add on over time. And the neon spoke bedazzles were not extra but an added bonus. It wasn't complete without streamers and I had brought some from Canada that I had made for the SeaToSea cyclists when they had come through London.  Also, if you cyclists thought Pearl was heavy, you should feel this steel monster. It easily comes in at 55-60lbs but that is the type of sturdyness needed to survive the roads of Malawi. This bike will be around for 50yrs.
I loved that this was the slogan on the cross bar.
That says it all!
Of course, as per tradition, cyclists celebrate by lifting their bike over their head. I had enough ceiling height to do it in the store but had to move to the back to have room to maneuover and to make sure if there was a disaster nothing terrible got broken. I asked the store owner if I could do this and he said "Sure, sure. Whatever you wanted!" (I was buying 5 brand new bikes) I thanked him and said I would wait until some people moved from the area so I didn't hit them. He said no problem and hustled them away from the area so I could do my photo shoot. I thought of my friend Marti Dupleiss who is always amazed that I can lift Pearl and if she could see me haul a bike 3Xtimes that weight what she would think. I got into position, had a staff person steady the bike while I got my grip, got Jessie ready with my camera and in one heave, up it went and I did it! It felt good.

Yes, I also got it back down safely. I went over to Silas to Thank him for making all the arrangements and for finding us such great bikes at an amazing price. I could hardly wait to ride one. He said I should take it to the lake with me. I told him that we weren't going to the lake because there weren't accommodations for us. He was shocked. I said it was fine. We were finding other things to do and going to try and do another clinic and the rest of the team could go next week when Bryan and I had left. Silas was torn. He said that he didn't want to stop us from seeing more patients but we needed a break too and if we wanted to go to the lake he would get us a place to stay. I said it wasn't my call to make that he needed to talk to Cathy. The team came together and the decision was that if Silas found us a place we would go to the lake. A simple phone call and Silas had arranged for us to have a private cottage for 2 nights at Lake Malawi. We were trying to find out who owned the cottage because on the call he was referring to someone as "His Excellency" and "the First Lady".
It wasn't the time for questions, we had to get back to Canada House to pack in 20mins and be on the road as it was a 6hr drive and it was already late morning and there was a stop we wanted to make.
The drive north was lovely and I know why Malawi is call the country of mountains and lakes......and cows and chickens and goats.
Now there were a lot of police checks along the way and also we came up over a hill and got caught in a speed trap. Xander said some Chechewa words that I hadn't heard before and would be interesting to get translated. A few minutes with the police and we had a ticket to pay. 5000 kwacha or $7.50US. No problem. I would love to know what we were doing over the limit but remember, the speedometer doesn't work.....ever.
I know, you're thinking that's not much for speeding but remember, a well paying job in Malawi is $3000 Kwacha per that is 2 day's pay.
I'm amazed that Xander can do a long drive like this and find all our stops without and road markings, GPS or maps.
He also let me know that along this road, at a certain point, we would have Mozambique on one side and Malawi on the other. Cool, let me know so I can take a picture. It was a beautiful trip and a lovely way to see more of the country.
I had seen lots of chicken and goats but as we headed north, I noticed that we were seeing more and more cows.
And they use large rocks as billboards.
Xander then turned to me."You want a selfie in Mozambique?" Can I do that? Sure and he pulled the van over. Welcome to Mozambique! I laughed and grabbed my phone. Don't forget your passport my team called to me.
And for 3 feet, I was in Mozambique! Fun! 
More views of Mozambique
Back to business, we needed to get to a pottery place that Cathy loved near where the lake was. We got to Dedza Pottery just after 2
and they had a lovely showroom and a restaurant where we could have lunch. First, I needed a restroom break and as I walked through the patio, a group of people called out that I was the first white person they had seen with braids. I laughed and said what was REALLY funny was that I had done my hair in Canada before coming to Malawi. We then exchanged stories about our reasons for being in the country. They were from Holland and come twice a year to check the malaria levels of mosquitoes. Very cool. 
I joined my group back at the showroom and they had already made some selections but they decided that they would wait to purchse after having a quick lunch. We went back to the restaurant patio and ordered. There was an option of eating in the garden on tiled tables but wandering around were about 6 loose chickens which might have well been sharks to Cathy. The covered patio was fine. It was fascinating to watch them as they have learned that there is food to be had when people leave the tables.
We were begining realise that there is no such thing as fast food in Malawi. Our simple orders of the specials and salad took over an hour to arrive at the table. By the time we ate, we really needed to get back on the road but we still had purchases to make and a few of us had wanted to try the tarts for dessert. I said that I would go and order dessert and try and get it faster. I walked over to the servers counter and asked if I could get a couple of orders of tarts. The person there said sure. I then explained that we were running short on time and if they couldn't be ready quickly. we wouldn't be able to make our pottery purchases. Sure enough, our tart orders were there in under 2 mins! I stayed back to pay the bill with Xander while the rest headed to getting buying at the showroom. When I arrived at the showroom, Cathy had already gather some of the pieces I wanted and I just had a few more to select. Because they are all individually done you need to check them for tiny flaws that might bother you or irregularities. I was checking the last of a couple of bowls with the assistance of one of the staff and I couldn't see much of a difference so I asked her which one she would pick. She went to turn one over to inspect it and it slipped out of her hand, hit the floor and smashed into a million pieces. We both looked at each other in horror as everyone in the store turned and stared at us. I just look at her and pointed to the bowl in her other hand and said it was fine, I'll take it.
I might have spent a significant amount of money as I haven't had much time for shopping and want to bring something home. Enough, that one of the staff carried my stash to the van while the rest of the group had to haul their own. Apparently they didn't see me lift the bike eariler but I never refuse kindness especially with fragile stuff.
Back on the road, we were trying to get to the cottage before dark but didn't succeed. We were now wandering dark roads with minimal directions, a bunch of white foreigners in a large white van creeping through the neighbourhood. A few relay phone calls between myself, Silas and Xander and we found an SUV at the end of a road ready to escort us to our destination. We entered a gated estate on the water front of Lake Malawi. We are greet by the owner, Phyllis who apologises as here husband had to retire to bed but will greet us in the morning. He is the Ambassador of Tanzania and this is their vacation retirement home. Apparently, Silas KNOWS some people. We thank them for letting us stay at their home and she said she was glad to do it.
We got settled in our rooms, exhausted by the travel, ready to enjoy a day of freedom and rest tomorrow.

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