Randy is in the House
Wow! Now I know what it feels like to be a sectional rider. I have traversed Africa three times with the Tour Dâ€™Afrique, but it has always been from Cairo to Cape Town. I have never just jumped in at some point along the route. My greatest struggle is with the heat. I was camping just a few weeks back but it was in the snow, not in the humid sweltering heat of Tanzania. Not to mention that I havenâ€™t ridden a bike in nearly five months. Everyone else is riding like a king and Iâ€™m employing every possible tactic just to prevent a saddle sore. Needless to say the body is gonna need some time to adjust to the new environment, lifestyle and daily routines.
The road from Arusha to Iringa has historically posed numerous challenges, usually more so for the trucks than the riders. This year we have been lucky. The weather has cooperated. I remember crossing raging torrents, but this year they were dry river beds. I recall waking up after night full of rain only to find that the trucks had sunk up to the chassis in greasy mud. But this year the roads have been dry, none of the trucks have got stuck and cyclists only have to remove dust from their drive train each night instead of the cemented red muck. Ironically as I sit here typing in Iringa the rain is pelting off the tin roof like machine gun fire. But the dirt roads are behind us and rain on the tarmac as we continue south will only settle the dust and drop the temperature. Continuing south along the blacktop there are some incredible hill climbing stages as Tanzania draws to an end and we enter Malawi.
So, how do you define the quintessential African experience; a safari through the Serengeti, summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro, rafting the Zambezi, or surfing the supertubes of J-Bay? For the less adventurous it may be teaching an English lesson in a rural schoolhouse, or chatting with the locals over a cup of chai in a remote village. In years past I have done all of these. But a few days ago I had an experience that supersedes anything Iâ€™ve seen before. Whenever Iâ€™m here I seek out traditional music. The faint rhythm of drums in the distance has led me on several detours well off the beaten path. The first day out of Dodoma I could here the tribal pounding of drums as we were establishing our bush camp. When things were set up, I approached the crowd of curious onlookers and said â€œngoma si koapi?â€ (Where are the drums?). When the laughter subsided from the mzungu struggling with Swahili I was led by a group of children deep into the surrounding agricultural fields. After about 20 minutes we came across a group of laborers turning the soil. In the blistering heat men, women and children were using primitive hand made spades and hoes to prepare the ground for planting. On the side of the clearing there were two drummers pounding on animal skins stretched over old rusty oil cans. The workers would swing their tools in unison to the beat and the tempo was fast. When they saw me they put on a bit of a show, dancing a jig between strokes, cart wheeling, or throwing their shovel up into the air. They began to sing and everything intensified. I was amazed by their efficiency. In 15 minutes they had cleared a huge area, no machinery, no technology, not even an ox and plow. These people have knowledge of living off the land that the modern world has lost. I took my turn at both turning the soil and playing the drums which provided great entertainment for the locals, but neither were easy. Have these people been forgotten in time as the world evolved around them? Do these people envy the world of materialistic possessions? They are healthy. They are content. Perhaps the truth is that deep down inside I envy them for their simplicity. They work hard, but they are truly free. They maintain a subsistence lifestyle free from the pressures of image, greed and segregation that western world imposes.