The challenges of riding a bicycle in Zambia

19/08/2014

"He was not very talkative and looked shy. I asked him if I could see his bicycle. He nodded, came back with a black bike that looked brand new. It had thick tyres, like the ones little children in Belgium use to keep their balance. Only here the robust tyres were meant to withstand the dirt roads. Later I would find out that this brand of bicycles is especially made for Africa: ‘for big loads on though roads.’ The website states that these are the strongest bikes on the continent, built with heavy-gauge steel and a rack ready to carry over 100 kg loads.

In February of this year 80 bicycles were distributed to Community School teachers in the Copperbelt Province. It enables them to travel at low costs from their homes to learning centres. There they attend classes, hoping that at the end of the year they will pass their O-level exams (= secondary education).

I am at Mitenge Alms Community School, near the border with the DR of Congo. Two of the volunteer teachers in this school received a bicycle. Every other day they travel 35 km to reach the learning centre in Ndola. One of them is the seemingly shy and silent Lutangu. Surprisingly he starts to smile when I take out my camera. He even poses. Encouraged by these signs of enthusiasm, I propose that he rides his bicycle while I make more pictures. He looks away. His smile disappears and eventually he points at the pedals. He mumbles: 'I’ve put too much pressure... it broke off.' A few seconds later I am holding one of the pedals in my hands. Lutangu has tried to repair the bike, but failed. I can’t help to wonder how he has broken the strongest bicycle on the continent.

It doesn’t take long for the other volunteer teacher to notice what is going on. Kelvin willingly lends out his bicycle (with two functioning pedals) for the ‘action’ pictures. I ask if he likes his bike. He replies that he is extremely happy with it and it’s very useful. The bicycles don’t have lights so I’m eager to know how the teachers drive back to their homes after class in the evening. In Zambia it gets dark around 18 hours and the roads are not well lit. Kelvin laughs out loud when I tell him about my thoughts. 'I have a torch!' he says proud like a little boy that gave the right answer which none of his fellow pupils knew. I frown my eyebrows, not sure of what he exactly means with 'torch'. He reaches in his pocket and takes out his mobile phone. I try not to look confused and smile. I can’t imagine that this phone gives enough light to see the bumpy road ahead. But Kelvin‘s enthusiasm about his bicycle can’t be tempered by this detail. As if it is the most utterly obvious thing in the world, he conscientiously demonstrates how a 'mobile torch' is used."

Melissa

Melissa is our Belgian volunteer who landed in Lusaka end of June 2014 to stay for one year. She supports VVOB Zambia and its local partner ZOCS with monitoring and writing human interest stories. She tries to visualise the impact of the work they have been doing the past couple of years. On a regular basis, you can read her observations on our website.
 
  
Mitenge Alms Community School
Lutangu and his bicycle
The challenges of riding a bicycle in Zambia
Kelvin and his bicycle