Bicycling Africa: A Journey Closed

by Spencer

Six days ago, I was in Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu, on the shore of Lake Victoria, bicycling home to my dearest cozy sleeping bag on a dark scary road, the main southward arterial to Uganda. It was about seven. It was quite dark, but close enough to dusk that there were regular clouds of gnats. It was not pleasant.

At once: I am blinded by an oncoming semi-truck. My night vision is shot; there are no street lights. Ahead I barely make the outline of bicycle loaded with raw sugar cane six feet wide. I veer right onto the road proper where a minibus is overtaking the semi-truck. Oh crap. It honks; I veer left, into a pot hole. This hurts. Back right. Through a cloud of gnats, close the eyes. Open eyes. Three shadowy slowly moving bicycles, two seconds to impact. Hmm. Left again. Big unseen bump. Ow.

Repeat times twenty minutes. People point at me, shout. Mzungu! Mzungu! White person! White person!  In the dark I really don’t welcome it. Why are you so interested in me? It’s intense but also banal. Being on the bicycle, as so, that is my day to day. Cycle, cycle, awkward encounter, cycle, eat, sleep, repeat.


Slept Here: All Saints Cathedral

by Spencer

In Juba, South Sudan, the pastor kindly let us stay in this classroom. But we had to be up early – it was in use by 8am for Sunday School! The Church plays a big role in developing nations. In large towns the compound may contain a small seminary, guest house, kitchen and conference facilities. Many schools and clinics are also run through churches.
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A Fork in the Road: To South Sudan

by Spencer

We are creatures of habit. Most often our decisions are less than tremendous – they’re exercises in functional efficiency, habituated patterns. I face an actual decision. A literal fork in the road. It’s unsettling.

Last week we discovered that Ethiopia has changed its immigration policy. They no longer issue tourist visas, except at the airport in Addis Ababa and to residents in their home country. Online, people reported month long turnarounds from the Ethiopian embassy in Washington. The only way for us to make it into Addis would be to fly in. Difficult and expensive as we have bicycles.

We’re cornered. We came from the south. To the west, the Congo is struggling after decades of war and a continuing insurgency. And they don’t speak English. To go east is to enter Kenya and end our journey early in Nairobi. That’s an option. Maybe the wisest. But there’s another option, to go north.


Slept Here: Rural Ugandan Maternity Ward

by Spencer

Spend a night in the maternity ward to a rural African clinic, and you gain perspective. There was no soap, no clean linens, no running water, no electricity. And yet, they were so kind. Ben asked if there was a way to boil water, so we could make our rice. The clinic had a stove. They clearly hadn’t used it much before; gas spilled onto the floor. A pregnant woman came to give birth. The flames shot up three feet high. Ben and I thought the stove was going to explode and everyone was going to die. The woman was led to a bed. They gave us a pineapple. Even insisted we sleep on blood stained beds. (Awkward!) They were so kind.

Basically, We’re Tramps

by Spencer

I’m at a hostel in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. I’ve been here for three days and all I’ve paid for is internet and beer. To save money, I’m sleeping in a mosquito net, under a tree, down the road, but because it’s just safer I sometimes fall asleep at various locales within the hostel proper. In other words, I’ve become a tramp.
Being a tramp raises various ethical concerns. (more…)

It Falls Apart (But It Could Be Worse)

by Spencer

Last week was disastrous. We were riding through Zimbabwe. It’s a poor country. People sit on the side of the road selling piles of bugs. There isn’t enough electricity to power the streetlights. Our destination was Bulawayo’s central business district, it was nighttime and I was tired. My hand hasn’t been quite right, after a few hours it tingles, then turns to pins and needles and then I loose all sensation. We went over these rumble strips; they knocked the bag with my laptop off my bicycle and I didn’t feel it. I realized it was gone a couple minutes later. I circled back but it was too late. We were in the dark suburbs of a large city next to a university. All the photos, video, notes, contact info and the two completed episodes of the past month were gone and would never come back.

When you lose a month’s work and a couple thousand dollars you pause. It’s that punch to the stomach where you’re consumed by regret, all you can think of are the couldve shouldves. I wish I had stopped bicycling before it got dark, when I could still feel my hand. I wish I had safetied the bag to the bicycle. I wish I had backed up my work and mailed it home. I spent a week questioning why I was here, my competency, whether or not I’m even half capable of completing what I set off to do. It has been a journey of bad to worse.

And yet, I was right about at least one thing. There is a story here. In one day I went from a lawyer’s office to a police station to a hospital (to get my stitches out) to continue onward to wake up in a new city. As they say in some places, it’s been real.

When I was frantically searching for my bag, a headlamp attached to my helmet flickering through night, a man pulled off the side road and asked if we were okay. I told him what happened. He invited to us his friend’s home and we all watched Championship League (soccer) over a hot meal. He told us how in his eyes Nelson Mandela was a sellout. He told us how yeah Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s 87 year old dictator, is, yeah, a real a**hole who burned Zim into the ground but he’s our a**hole dictator who you put in power so why do you kick us out of the Commonwealth and put up sanctions?

Getting different perspectives is big. So is human kindness. It’s worth fighting for. I considered going home. I considered compromising, continuing with the bicycling but no video. But I can’t. I’m not going give up. Not yet. I’m alive and well and there is a story here. People are amazing.

In the coming weeks expect a lot more posts. (And maybe actually a video!!) The journey continues.