Posted by: Dana | 2010/04/11

April 9 – Madame, Do You Have Medicine?

Cruising along on our final day in Malawi, which was now several days ago, I cycled past two local riders on one bicycle―one man pedaled and a second man sat on the back. They closely hugged the edge of the road, so I cycled on the side closest to traffic (starting in Kenya, we ride on the opposite side of the road since traffic runs in the opposite direction), As I pulled up alongside the men, one asked, “Madame, where are you going” I responded, “to the Zambian border,” which was only about 30 kilometers away. “No,” he said. “What is your final destination?” I responded, “Cape Town,” which elicited gasps from both men. “And where did you start?” one man asked. At this point, I was pulling slightly ahead of their rickety bike. “Cairo!” I shouted as I continued to pedal. And then, a massive crash!! The men lost their concentration and literally fell off the road. I heard a mash of metal and a crunch of body parts hitting the dirt on the side of the road. Jeez, was it something I said?!?!? I stopped and got off my bike. “Madame, do you have some medicine?” they wanted to know.

I opened my first aid kit and looked at the contents that remained―bandages, antiseptic spray, ibuprofen, etc. The two men were banged up―not horribly, but they had bloody knuckles and elbows and each man rolled up his pants to reveal bloody knees. They were in a bit of shock, as was I, but they were as kind and curious as could be. I sprayed their wounds with the antiseptic spray and handed over my band-aids and bandages so that they could cover their wounds. I told them that I was sympathetic because I had taken my own spills―and I showed them what bruises and scabs remain from my last falls. We laughed and they asked if they could ride alongside me until they could no longer keep up. Before we parted ways, I took the obligatory bloody post-crash photo―how novel that I wasn’t the subject!―the men showed off their wounds to the camera, they thanked me profusely for assisting them after their fall, and they wished me “a good journey”. For the rest of the day, I was tickled thinking of how the men just completely dropped off the road when I told them where I was headed and from where I came. It was a very odd and surprisingly affecting interaction.

So we crossed into Zambia, after what felt like a very short stint in Malawi, though we had been there for more than one week. Our last rest day was spent in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, where―as it just so happens―Madonna was visiting on the same night we were there. While it would have been fun to hang out with Madonna―I was too busy with my typical rest day chores: cleaning my bike, searching the market for guavas, and using the internet. I spent the entire morning trying to figure out how to mail a giant parcel containing the wooden chair I bought at Chitimba Beach at Lake Malawi a few days earlier. I guess Madonna was probably busy, anyhow.

Zambia is very beautiful and the roads we’ve traveled have been relatively quiet and well-paved. The surroundings are lush and vibrant―long rolling hills, thatched huts in small clusters, and a population density that seems pretty low, at least in the provinces where we have traveled. As with Malawi, the poverty is stark but I haven’t seen the kind of begging we saw there and elsewhere. I have seen a few memorable citings of local Zambians riding bikes with all sorts of crap strapped to the bikes―other bikes, huge bales of hay, piles of logs and sticks that rise well over the heads of the cyclists, enormous sacks of charcoal, families of four all on one bike, and most memorably, one very large pig (live!) tied up and thrashing about on the back of the bike. Thankfully, I’m not loaded down with any of this stuff when I ride!

The official language of the government here in Zambia is English, so it seems that people speak more English here than in some of the other countries we’ve traveled. The kids generally know a few words, but their lack of knowledge is easily exposed when they ask, “how are you?” and we respond, “fine, thank you, and how are you?” and then they stand there, dumbfounded and without any vocabulary with which to reply. There are similarities I notice of culture, dress, topography, and food between Malawi and here―neither country seems to have much traffic (probably because very few can afford to drive) and, at least in the province we are in currently, the Chichewan language is also shared. I’ve picked up a few expressions and greetings to use as I meet people along the road, but it’s been tough to retain hard-to-pronounce words in yet another language!

The riding has been tough and hot. We’ve covered some great distance, including yesterday’s record day of 197km―the longest ride of the tour, by far. For those with metric conversion difficulty (like me), it’s something like 125 miles. Tomorrow is another rough day at nearly 160km―more uphill than down and in very hot and humid weather. Tonight is probably the most uncomfortable I’ve been with the heat. I’m not exactly sure how hot it is but I would safely guess we’re well over 100 degrees with no wind, black flies, and tall grass (which is now freaking me out a little bit since I learned the second biggest killer to HIV/AIDS in Zambia is snakes…and we’re in “snake season”). The flies are nasty because they like to feed off of any tasty scab or infection that they can get their little fly-paws on, so I’ve been wearing socks with my flip-flops to cover up the infections on my feet, which are now on the mend.

There is a water pump just down a dirt path from where I set up my tent and riders took turns stripping down and dousing ourselves repeatedly to try to cool off. On one occasion when I was totally naked with three other female riders, we laughed when one woman said it felt like we were in a scene from the 1800s. It was so very true.

Yesterday was a big day in camp―one rider celebrated his 50th birthday and another rider celebrated her 39th. Tony, the fifty year-old, thew a party for himself. With the help of the staff, who picked up tons of beer, liquor, and soft drinks (and ice!!!!!!), Tony treated the group to a celebration. Juliana, the birthday girl, made a dessert, which we never have (except for snacks we buy ourselves), making it a real treat. Sadly, though, the mood was overshadowed because of a very serious accident suffered by one of our youngest riders earlier in the day.

TDA staff don’t want us going in to a ton of detail about crashes for fear that families will learn from blogs what they ought to hear from riders, themselves. However, in this case, I know the family has already been contacted. I won’t go into detail here, but as they emerge, they shake me to my core. This young rider apparently collided with another cyclist (a local) and took a very bad fall. Yesterday, all we knew was that he sustained major facial injuries, including a lip that was completely torn open, a damaged nose, and lost teeth. The staff frantically assessed the various options―but came up against dead-ends for getting his wounds closed in the vicinity. They were really racing against time for fear that infection would quickly take hold. When all local options failed (local hospitals and clinics were completely unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with such an emergency) and a flight to Johannesburg would not be possible until the following day, the staff turned to our own resources. Together, a brand new sectional rider, who had joined us not more than 48 hours earlier, who happens to be a prominent thoracic surgeon in Canada and our very capable lead nurse, performed surgery on this rider using the facilities of a local mission hospital and equipment and supplies provided by the TDA. Even before the birthday party had concluded, the brave injured rider accompanied by the doc and the nurse returned to camp. I think we were all astounded that he returned to camp―and for a little while, it even seemed that he had been patched up well enough that he might not have to leave the tour. His status on the trip is uncertain at this point.

This kind of occurrence is so extremely sobering. For one, I realize that the dream that this one rider had to ride across Africa may now come to a quick end. Without a doubt, it also reminds each of the other riders, myself included, about the dangers we face each day. It sounds like our group has had more than our share of bad crashes (and head injuries). Let’s just hope that we’ve seen the last one.

On a lighter note, as I sit and sweat in my tent while writing this blog entry, I realize I made an error of judgment regarding tent placement tonight. I’m near the farters and the snorers!!! Aaaaah. I need to be more careful tomorrow night. Goodnight, for now, and I will post again from our next rest day in Lusaka.


  1. Dana,

    This trip sounds amazing in so many ways. Please be safe. We are with you for the duration.
    Barb and Steve

  2. you’re so much cooler than madonna and that means a lot coming from me. 🙂

    love reading your posts. it seems like you’re seeing the world through entirely new eyes. what a gift.


  3. Dana,
    “Snake season?!” Yikes! You are braver than most!! I am glad to read that you seem to be feeling better! I am sorry to hear about your fellow riders’ accidents 😦 Stay safe and please keep up the blogging! It is so fun following along your adventures (and knowing you’re doing ok!). I also like the creative titles 🙂

    Keep it up and I can’t wait for you to get back! Miss you and sending you best wishes and safe travels from across the globe! xoxo, Tracy

    P.S. I just tried posting a note before this but couldn’t tell if it worked or not–please excuse me if I posted 2!

  4. Dana,
    I am Erin’s mom and I have been following your blog and journey. I am so happy that you and Erin are sharing this adventure together. I am as proud of you as I am of Erin. Stay healthy, be safe and know that you are in my thoughts. I hope to meet you when you are safely home. Enjoy – you are almost to the finish line.
    Gerri Sprague

  5. Dana

    Aunt Marge’s friend, Karen, here. Just have to tell you that I read your blog and feel like I am in the midst of a National Geographic special! Chuckles. What an adventure. Good thoughts for the remainder of your journey and many thanks for sharing it with us all.

    Ride ’em, Cowboy!!

  6. Dana, honey, your msgs evoke all emotions ~ fear, concern, awe, admiration, compassion, warmth, laughter! THANK YOU! And you be careful, ok. No head injuries allowed! Again, I really hope you consider compiling all these blog entries to make a photo book when you get home. Maybe the proceeds can fund your next adventure, which we all await with probably as much excitement as you! You have a gift, dear. For adventure, and for writing. I feel like I’ve experienced Africa with you!! Give me more 🙂

    Big love, Sheryl

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