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  • Theresa Vernetti

White Woman on a Bicycle

August 30, 2005    Lake Victoria, Kenya

I slept in until 7:30 a.m. this morning….vaguely recalling my episode with angry fire ants in the bathroom the night before and wondering if the breakfast coals were still hot enough to percolate some European style espresso.  We  were given  a day free from the safari routine to participate in “optional activities” around Lake Victoria, one of which was the entertaining opportunity to observe the grease covered mechanic and cook disassemble part of the truck engine and scratch their heads. The morning “canoe ride” turned out to be an excursion on a medium sized fishing vessel paddled by five, lean, young men who kept the pace by singing local tunes, the helmsman directing the softer than boot camp style chants.  Visits were paid to fishermen placing nets in waist deep  water… not having much luck that day but  very happy to offer us a small, slimy fish as a gift. Groups of women in brightly patterned skirts sat at the shore to greet the incoming  boats, watch the men untangle their nets and hand out snacks  of peanuts and roasted sweet potatoes.  Our boat  landed at a nearby village and was helped to unload by a number of locals who were still unaccustomed to foreign visitors but greeted us warmly with a sort of subdued enthusiasm.  A crowd gathered around to gawk as we admired the 20 kilo Egyptian perch ready to be hauled off to the market…nice to experience a village still raw like that. The campground has only been open for two months, so interaction with tourists is still a novelty. First lunch, then laundry—drying at warp speed thanks to a temporary spell of high winds.  Luckily, the clothing did not blow off the line and into the dirt as the cheeky children hiding behind nearby bushes would have been delighted to witness.  The real treat today, however, was a bike ride….the first, official tour offered by the  campground staff and serving only  one participant  because nobody else dared to hop on a Tanzanian bicycle. In fact, the local women had only recently begun to ride bicycles.  Hard, dirt tracks made it easy, though…and the manager led the way on a 6km adventure, greeting and talking to everybody along the way.  We stopped to inspect some souvenirs at a shop bordering the Serengetti, had a lukewarm Coke (official sponsor of most African town signage), then hit two more settlements on the way home.  Nearing the campsite and neighboring village, we were accosted by about 20 young boys in school uniforms.  They wanted their picture taken, posed karate style, showed us their strength by lifting a very long branch, then ran behind us all the way home, chanting a traditional song they’d adapted just for me…”White woman on a bicycle…hmmm hmmmm…white woman on a bicycle”…in Swahili, a groovy melody borrowed from the traditional “Monkey on a Bicycle.”  More kids joined in Pied Piper style until we reached the village where parents emerged through the doorways of their mud hut to see the cause of all the commotion.  Children swarmed about as I grabbed a few photos, made difficult by older boys sticking their hand in front of others’ faces.  After each group of 7 or 8 pictures a mini-slideshow was presented on the back of the camera…producing hoots and hollers and everyone exclaiming “Ohhhhhhh Kaaayyyyyyy” to mimic me…such fun.

My biking companions suggested buying the kids some sweets but being opposed to handing out sugar (even in sugar cane country), I decided to get them the soccer ball hanging up at a shop across the path….which disappeared immediately along with all the children..out to the pitch..silhouettes of the energetic bunch against a bright orange sky, buzzing about in clumps raising clouds of dust, producing screeches and laughter until long after sunset.

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