Bikes and bikes.
This year, we welcomed three new members to our AI family in Meru. The Amani Crusader, Kukukachoo The Locomo Bike, and Miriam. These are the bikes we decided to buy and use as our mode of transportation to and from work. The buying of the bikes turned out to be an adventure in itself only highlighting the adventures that lay ahead. We by passed the idea of getting mountain bikes and instead bought a cheaper version of the cruiser style bike, like those popular in Asian countries. There is only one gear and as we have learned these bikes aren't as solid as bikes like we know. The excitement of buying the bikes led to immediate riding of them, as anyone who purchases a new bike does, and it was a mere matter of minutes before pieces started falling off. We later learned that after buying the bike, even though we watched the store keeper put the bikes together, that one is supposed to take it to a bike mechanic to really get it in working order. The store where we bought the bikes was in the heart of Meru Town, and even though its our second year here it was our first time to this spot. It was exciting being immersed in the busy bustle of the city center and a different look at the culture of the town we have become so comfortable in. While waiting for our bikes to be assembled we were approached by a Chokora, a street kid usually identified by the glue bottle hanging out of their mouth; a substance that curbs hunger and gets them stoned. We refused the usual request of money, fearing he would use it to buy more glue, instead took him to the market down the street to buy him some bread and yogurt. This would not be our last bike influenced encounter with Chokora's. The road from our house to the job site of KACH is about 6 miles, 2 of which are on rocky dirt roads. The ride to work is quite easy as most of it is down hill and doesn't require much pedaling, the difficulty lays in the journey home. After putting ourselve to the grindstone all day we have the 6 mile ride home, mostly up hill in the heat of the day on bikes with one gear. Funny that we bought these ones because they were much cooler than the mountain bikes. But trust me they are pretty cool! Oh Yeah, we are also carrying our oversized backpacks, weighing at about 30 lbs. each. The first couple of journeys, due to the fact we never had a mechanic look at them, resulted in broken bikes, but we have seemed to figure them out and they are proving to be a great method of transportation. So we ride our bikes home at the end of the day and struggle to get our oversized cruisers up the hills. At last we reach a flat section that ends in a down hill to our house, fewww! easy sailing from here, or at least we thought. We once again meet up with the Chokoras. The main intersection known as Makutano is a four way stop, and popular area for the chokoras to hang out. The minute we are spotted in Makutano the chase is on! A group of 4 or 5 were after us. At first they were running right beside, glue bottles in position, yelling hello. It seems to be a fun race, but that is quickly ended when they latch on to the back of the bike and refuse to let go, seeming as if they would hang on forever. One even attempted to jump on to my rack, scaring the heck out of me as i weaved through the traffic of people and cars with 2 ten year olds super-glued to the back. The decision to stop was made by JP and I followed suit as i didn't feel it was right to leave him behind. We had similar experiences as the kids begged us for money, of which, we had none. Unfortunately reasoning was out of the question with some of them as their glazed over, blood shot eyes merely represented how stoned they really were. Truly a heart breaking moment. Without money or food or the ability to reason the only option was to hop back on my bike, and pedal like hell. We have not encountered the Chokoras for a bit, but are armed with food as we know they are very hungry. We hope to create some type of relationship with some of them and learn how they ended up on the street and learn more about their sub-culture, with hopes of helping them. This may also produce pictures and stories. You can learn more about the Chokoras from the Documentary " Left Behind" by Christof Putzel found on our video page or at www.leftbehindfilm.com Our experiences with riding the bikes has opened different windows to the local culture, a benefit we did not expect. Although difficult at times, it has been an enjoyable addition to our life here especially when the bikes inspire smiles and waves and great looks of curiosity as the Mzungus (english speaking/white people) ride by. Not only do they provide transportation in a environment friendly way, help keep us in shape (haha who woulda thought), and create adventures they will also be a nice item to leave to the Kithoka Amani Community Home! Quick stop at the local bike shop!