From zero to Zambia: A learner about Africa
Experience exhilarating off-road riding, breathtaking scenery, unbelievable wildlife and the humbling friendliness of passers by in rural Zambia.
It’s November 2011 and I hear the words “We’re sorry to say your job is at risk...”. Except, what I actually hear is, “You’re up for redundancy, and you’ve been here 8 years, so we’re going to pay you to go on the bike trip you’ve been waiting for”.
So where to head? At the NEC show last November I found my answer. I’d read a bit about Riders for Health but I didn’t know about Experience Africa. It’s the chance to ride off-road in Zambia and see for yourself the work the charity does to get health care workers where they’re needed in rural Africa - providing reliable motorcycles where once health teams had to walk along country tracks or borrow off-road vehicles when they could.
The bikes, Yamaha AG200s, might not initially excite those used to more powerful machines, but the point is that you ride the same bikes as the local health care workers, seeing the trails between villages from their perspective.
It sounded like a fantastic experience to try out a new kind of riding and see a totally different way of life (just what I wanted as a break from the corporate world). And fundraising for a great cause seemed exactly the kind of thing I should be doing with my time off.
I arrived in Zambia in mid-November. As everyone began to arrive in Lusaka and share bike stories and off-road experience, it was clear that we were all looking forward to the ride. There were 15 of us in total, an eclectic bunch mostly from the UK, plus Jill from the US. We had enough different jobs and bikes to tick most boxes between us - firefighter to hotelier, Harley to Honda.
Day 1: We head off for a practise off-road ride to an elephant sanctuary - out first taste of wild Africa. The AG200s had a feel that wasn’t a million miles away from my first L-plate bike, a Honda CBF125. It made me slightly nostalgic for the winter I spent sliding about on a lightweight London commute 2 winters ago. But the climate and road surface couldn’t have been more different.
The next morning we learnt more about Riders for Health’s work in Zambia from Constance Chibiliti, Programme Manager. She explained about the difference motorcycles make when communities can be confident of a reliable schedule of visits from health care workers.
Day 3 and our first full day of off-roading, down to Moorings Farm campsite, between Mazabuku and Monza. The terrain was certainly trickier than our first taste, and the pace picked up, especially as we rode with a couple of the farmers, one of whom was getting ready for Dakar. It was fantastic to feel right out in the bush, passing through wooden villages and smiling, waving kids.
Meeting the locals was made especially significant when we dropped in on the district health centre the next day. The staff explain how they support care across the area, but as they talk, a motorcycle is propped up in the corner, unused and missing a rear wheel. We are told that it was there last year too. This illustrated the point of Riders for Health perfectly. This centre that isn’t yet supported by Riders and this was exactly the kind of lack of maintenance skills and resources that originally inspired the founders of the charity to improve the reliability of transport. All the drugs and expert professionals in the world are no use if they can’t to where they’re needed.
Riders Experience Africa isn’t the kind of trip for those who want to do it all on the own, to revel in dealing with mechanical failures or uncooperative border police, and want to leave Blighty on an open-ended ticket to who-knows-where. In some ways, the whole point is quite the opposite - that you witness what a slick operation Riders for Health is - it’s their role to make sure transport is maintained well so it’s safe and reliable, that health care workers are trained to deal with varied conditions so that they arrive in one piece where they’re needed.
Richard Warmsley, Experience Africa 2012
Find out more at [url=http://www.riders-experience.org]Riders for Health – Experience Africa
Last edited by Riders for Health; 22 Mar 2013 at 13:02.