Serious bicyclists use “clipless” shoes and pedals. They lock your foot to the pedal, making the cycling more efficient. Previous to this trip, I had only used clipless pedals once. Figuring out how unlock myself (basically you click your heels outward, Wizard of Oz style) in downtown Johannesburg surrounded by dozens of unemployed drunks at dusk was an intimidating experience, especially as I keeled over a few times. (Watching white people fall is funny!) But that’s another story.
This story begins on the road to Mazabuka, where one of the screws that attaches the cleat to the bottom of my shoe came out, meaning I couldn’t detach my foot from the pedal. This makes stopping problematic. What to do?
Step One. Keep on pedaling. (What else can you do?)
Step Two. Whilst biking, run into a member of the national Zambian bicycling team.
Step Three. Start up a conversation and get invited to spend the night at his home.
Step Four. Discover he has Specialized shoes as well as an extra screw. (Probably one of a few dozen in the whole country.)
Step Five. Rejoice; life is beautiful.
Of course, the narrative has to complicate itself. They took us to a pizza place. We asked, do you like chicken? Yes we like chicken. So we bought them a chicken pizza. But they don’t like cheese. So we bought them hot wings. But they don’t like spicy food. Things that should be self evident, that were to us as foreigners, weren’t and at the end you’re left feeling really awkward.
We made our goodbyes at 5am the next morning. Though he’s on the national team and has a road bike, he works as a cook for Zambia Sugar, getting up at 5am everyday to cook maize porridge for thousands of laborers. (For one thing, the minister of sport “ate” their funding.) His friend, who also works as a cook, couldn’t get over who we were. Every ten minutes “America” then a bit later “cycling” followed by a shake of his head. They asked us if it was true that Obama was born in Egypt, if it was true that we just shoot each other dead on the streets. Oftentimes I just don’t know how to respond.