Date: Tue, 09 Nov 1999 07:59:34 PST
From: Claude Marthaler

Subject: "Songwheels"

Dear Redfishes!
Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, km 98O91

A launch brought me across the Ruvuma river, the border between Mozambique and Tanzania. The salt water was reason enough to go on board, but the owner, to make sure to get the "Muzungo" (White Man) into his pocket added, "Crocos! Hippos!". He was wearing a bright new T-shirt of his president, Joaquim Chissano. For a start he offered me 15 times the normal price and we eventually settled on twice the normal fare. Muzungo rich, me poor- as simple as that. "Djambo! Mamb ?" (Hello, how are you?) questioned two drunk Tanzanians.

Ignoring borders and being omnipresent, the palm-based beer had a huge advantage for the men -- to make them forget about their wives carrying buckets of water (or anything else) on their heads from the well or the river to their village- sometimes a 8 hour walk one way! I had pushed my bike through the sand a big part of the day but despite the coconuts sold here and there which had never appeared so good to me, the tropical torpor made me feel like a cyclist in extinction.

I regularly patronized the traditional African huts to buy a sweet tea and drop my sweated print on the table or the bench. No sweet without sweat. Other times, I would just lie down under a banyan, feet against the huge trunk, trying to stretch my shaken body like the branches. I would think about Robert Winglee, the American physicist who dreamed of flying through deep space on sails built from hot plasma at 1O million km a day, propelled by 8OO km/sec solar wind. I would think about Richard Lee who calculated that a Bushman child will be carried a distance of 492O miles before he begins to walk on his own. What a nice journey! I could barely believe that I was actually riding towards Europe. Finally I would just sleep in and wake up, off schedule, mobbed by a village full of curious staring at this half-dead looking "Muzungo" and wondering why he inflicted himself with such bad treatment (riding a bike), he, the rich man?

In Europe, more and more, one thinks that you might have a problem if you don't travel. Simply out of the trend! In Africa, because you travel you are rich, and because you are traveling by bike, you have a problem. I didn't dare to tell them that I had maybe a bigger "problem" - doing the biggest circuit on a bike a kid could dream of. I wished sometimes that I had the patience of a giraffe and the aggressiveness of a lion, but I had just pedals to push on. I asked naturally: "How is the road?", "Good!" said an African who was wearing a bright new T-shirt of Julius Nyerere, the recently dead father of his nation, as he knew that in a month this sandy trail would simply vanish. Thousands of feet and repeated passages of bicycles had created a whole network of winding paths far better than the "National Highway" itself. And if cut suddenly, the Africans proved to be virtuoso 2x2 riders. I often think about the Aborigines of Australia for who the music is a memory bank for finding one's way ABOUT the world. For me it was enough that my bicycle was the way to move AROUND it.

The YAK_



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