I first learnt how to love a bicycle when I was 17. My parents had just moved our large family to Komamboga, a little village along Gayaza road and they wanted us to appreciate the gifts that it offered, like fresh air and old trees, flitting birds and gorgeous red roads. But we were sullen. We missed Bugoloobi and felt like we had been flung out of the orbit of our lives.
My father figured out that the best way to get us on his side was to give us the freedom to explore our new surroundings. He bought two bikes and let us siblings figure out a schedule.
Sullen faces were soon covered in dust.
Chests that had been heavy under the dread of relocation now heaved with exertion. We didn’t ride far from home, of course, afraid as we were of the eyes of our new neighbors. Their stares sometimes felt reproachful, other times curious. Our immediate neighbor’s children ran after us screaming Kop ango! and we couldn’t tell if they were hailing us or mocking us. As the first Luo family in our corner of Komaboga, we felt both tension and curiosity in the air. But children are good at choosing joy, and so we did.
I can remember all this, but not the color of the bicycle that I used my first born lugezigezi to dominate. Was it blue? Or Black? Was it a mountain bike or a roadbike? Did I ever engage my gears? I don’t remember much aside from my first fall. I stayed down and allowed hot tears to squeeze out of my eyes, watching as the blood on my palm mingled with the red dirt. I remember ringing my bestfriend in tears and I remember her raucous laughter.
RIDING TO LIVE
My new bicycle is my bestfriend today. I call her Baby. Her color was intentional. Red. Her safety chain is red. Her seat is red. My helmet is red.
At 32, I have learnt to allow my surroundings to permeate my senses. It’s much easier than fighting the inevitable.
This means that for the whole of 2021, the inertia imposed by Covid19 had replaced the marrow in my bones. Who would I be if I pretended to be OK? Who would I heal as?
Everything felt like loss. My laughter felt like loss. Even the blessing of FitcliqueAfrica finding THE PERFECT OFFICE felt like loss. COVID 19 had made a joke of all my ambitions and I wasn’t yet willing to do the work of returning to myself. My chest was heavy. I only felt the stirrings of life when my team and I were planting the Feminist Utopia garden, a holistic feminist installation within our office space.
Coming to the end of the day was miserable because I couldn’t find the strength to walk back home. I also knew that if I got home, I wouldn’t have the strength to walk back to work. A little mattress on the floor of my office became my refuge and it was getting thinner by the day.
And then I met my bike. I was walking the 7 kilometers from Komamboga to Kigowa, after spending a rare day with my family and was approaching Kisaasi center. I was feeling particularly tired of road harassers, especially the smug and mouthy men holding produce and building materials down at the back of moving trucks. Resentment and jealousy joined the pins and needles in my feet. Why did harassers have the blessing of transportation, of wheels when I did not?
This is the moment when my bicycle saw me and called out. She was peeking from behind a chainlink fence, standing among other equally beautiful specimens. I called back with my eyes. She called again, her redness whispering promises of sensory joy. I knew I couldn’t afford her at the time. I also knew that she had to be mine. I had met a lifelong friend, and she had met me. We weren’t going to give up on one another.
About a week later, we found that AWID had sent us a 1000 USD honorarium for writing a winning proposal to host the FitcliqueAfrica Feminist Utopia Installation at AWID International Conference 2021. While we were not going to travel and host Feminist Utopia in Thailand due to COVID19, we were being rewarded for our good idea. I couldn’t believe it! After a talk with the FitcliqueAfrica team, it was determined that bicycles were a necessary cost and were within our greater programmatic plans. We had always talked of hosting a riding club for the girls and the gays! That is how FitcliqueAfrica bought me my second bicycle in life!
In my excitement, I hailed an illegal boda boda and carried my bicycle on my lap from the bikeyard back to office. She was heavy but I accepted every moment of the crushing discomfort. This was my baby, And she had been bought for me by an organization that first existed inside my heart, mind and body.
Reader, I chose the journey back to joy when I chose to return to cycling. Joy chose me back. However, getting back on wheels was a whole other story. In my next article, I’ll tell you what to look out for when you are buying a bicycle and how to navigate Kampala’s streets while on one, including how to generate and wear the confidence it takes to slow down by boda stages, mouthy truckers and idle men.