Throughout my bicycle ride around the world from China to Canada, I came to the grand realization that we are all very much alike. However, our locations, cultures and views threaten to divide us. They threaten to make us feel like we are different. That our common man or women are removed from our current reality. That we are somehow better than someone else by mere circumstance. These are dangerous notions which only perpetuate the feelings expressed behind the glass wall of social media forums or news programs.
We are all very much alike in our personal wants and desires. If you take away the money, greed and power, the root of the humanity can be found in a few basic needs. The need for food on the table, sanitation, access to healthcare, clean water, shelter and opportunity. Beyond these basic necessities, we all want to feel love and connection. A connection to family and friends. To call a few people our close ones. To feel that returning feeling of love, forgiveness and warmth.
We all deserve access to these basic and affectionate sides of the human experience. We can help people achieve the basic pieces of the puzzle, but the soulful side is in the hands of the individual. Share that individuality on a local and global scale.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ~ Ralph Emerson, Writer
The sun cracks over the walled green horizon. In the morning glow, the Maasai Mara comes to life. Roosters make their morning call, donkey’s neigh and the chatter of women can be heard in the distance. One of the oldest areas of human life begins another day. A life of simplicity, family and challenge.
The little things are but part of the daily existence called life. Words like water, food and shelter. We call these words basic rights, but for many these are in top priority for the day. The morning chores, the weight of the water bucket, the cleaning and preparation of available food are part of a greater effort being enacted here.
Arriving back in Kenya was one of those experiences which drove me down a tunnel of introspective nostalgia. I have now accepted a position at WE Charity as a Motivational Outreach Speaker. I am incredibly excited about this opportunity. It will be a unique chance to share my story of cycling around the world with youth and adults alike across Canada and the US, while promoting the sustainable development work of WE Charity. Though leaving my position as a Teacher after finishing my bike ride was difficult, it is an opportunity I could not turn down. I am incredibly proud and excited to share this news.
The new position prompted my return to Kenya on the biannual staff trip. It was in this capacity I could gain a stronger perspective of the work being done on an international scale, come to understand the programs in place and meet some of my new colleagues. It would give me an opportunity to give back to the communities I partnered with nearly two years ago.
As we drove out to the Maasai Mara, I relived my cycling route out towards Narok. Rolling along the hilly landscape that winds out of Nairobi, I found myself retracing my steps. I saw ghosts of conversations I had along the way. A shop where I had a broken bracket welded and a bottled Pepsi rest spot sped on by as my eyes wandered.
One spot in particular stood out as we stopped at the view point over the Great Rift Valley. The cradle of life lay before me once again. It was Canada Day July 1st, 2015 that I stopped there to have a bite of lunch and a view. Moments later a bus load of Canadians stopped by and I was able to share an afternoon break with some people from home. This was one of the more memorable look out points on my entire trip, not just because of the view, but because of the historical as well as the personal significance the valley represents. There I snapped the same picture and returned to our ME to WE lorry with a smile where new friendships were forming.
Arriving at camp was a welcome experience, getting to know our wonderful facilitators, Maasai guides and more team members. Over the next week we would eat, work and learn together. It was an action packed ten days at camp. We learned about the history, culture and challenges of life in Kenya, particularly for the Kipsigis and Maasai peoples. Here we made new bonds and came to understand the stark differences that separate our world. Access to water, food, education, healthcare and opportunity were always at the forefront.
“If you’re in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.” ~ Warren Buffett, Business Magnate
Throughout the week a variety of activities were designed to give you a sense of the daily reality people endure. We participated in traditional water walks where lugging a huge jug of water back from the nearest river is the norm. This experience gives you a deep understanding of how precious water is when taking into account the wastefulness of our Canadian brothers and sisters. If we had to walk a kilometre with a large bucket of water on our backs five to ten times a day, we would all reconsider our use of water.
We beaded like the Mama artisans who participate in the opportunity pillar projects making a wide variety of fair trade items for sale through ME to WE. You learn how important these types of empowerment projects are in the lives of the local people. It allows them to send their kids to school, buy medicines and provide for their families in a way that was previously impossible.
These projects are supplemented by ‘merry-go-round’ initiatives which enable women as well as men to make investments into larger items in their household or community through a roundabout style collection and distribution of money. Basically, everyone puts in $10 and eventually it will be there turn to use $100 or more for something that would improve their lives. It is amazing what these people can accomplish with a simple hand-up. It is not a handout, but a hand-up to create sustainable change for future generations.
During the trip we had a variety of local entertainers join us. We went on a safari drive deep in game reserve territory where we saw elephants, zebras, gazelles, warthogs, buffalo wildebeest, giraffes, vultures, hyenas and even watched a huge pod of hippos while eating bagged lunches. We participated in weapons training where we launched arrows and threw traditional Maasai weapons called rungus into the afternoon heat. There was a rungu making session as well as Swahili lessons.
There were two huge ceremonies for the surrounding communities while we were in Kenya. The opening of the boys High School was a huge highlight and a massive step forward for education in the community. We also got to experience the graduation ceremony at the Kisaruni girls High School. Of all the groups of young learners I have ever met in my life, these are the most dedicated, mature, strong and powerful young ladies I have ever met. When I first had the opportunity to meet these girls I was blown away by their enthusiasm and often thought about how often we take education for granted back in Canada.
For myself, one of the most amazing aspects was visiting the Baraka Hospital, especially the surgical wing. When I was in Kenya a year and a half ago the surgical wing of the beautiful Baraka hospital was only a foundation. During my time there I participated in laying some cement in the work site. At the time it was difficult to envision what the end product would look like. Seeing the finished product and realizing the greater picture of change it would enact is hard to describe. When people travel hours down bumpy roads to get to a hospital only to be told they had to again travel another few hours to a hospital which offers surgical procedures, must be crushingly difficult. Soon, that will no longer be the case with the surgical wing opening in February.
The list of experiences and accomplishments goes on. The work being realized by WE Charity in Kenya is truly inspiring and difficult to accurately describe in full. All of the projects are interconnected to one another. The model of sustainable development has been put in place to a point where life events are coming full circle. People who went through the school system in communities which are now independent have gone off to university and returned to become teachers that give back to the community they grew up in.
The work here is truly changing and improving lives on a daily basis. It is something I am very proud to attach my name to. Helping communities rediscover their independence through projects they can be proud of has shaped future generations to come. Of the many communities WE Charity has partnered with, many are now completed independent. They have worked to a point where they function as a sustainable unit through the projects that have been implemented. They work under the sustainable model that empowers people through empowering them with education, healthcare, water, food and opportunity programs.
As I transition into my new role as a Motivational Speaker with WE Charity, I thank all of the people who have supported my ride. I thank those that have donated to make a difference in the lives of the people in the communities we sponsored in rural China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua. I thank most of all my wonderful wife, family and friends for being there through it all and helping me get to this point. I am now doing my best to live the message I have been promoting for over the last two years. Speaking for WE will allow me to get that message out there to a much later audience. For that I am eternally grateful for the people at WE Charity. I am so excited to join a team of intensely passionate and energetic people at WE. Together, through challenge and change, we can have a lasting impact on our world.
*I look forward to continuing to share my adventures on here as my new exciting role with WE Charity begins. I will keep updates rolling as I develop my new speech and take to schools across Canada and the US.
**If you are curious to read about my original time cycling through Kenya, please feel free to CLICK HERE.
***If you haven’t had a peek you can watch my GoPro cycling journey around the world at the bottom of this post.
2-Year GoPro Bicycle Adventure Around the World
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter/Politician
There comes a time when we must make decisions in our lives. Crossroads present themselves in a sea of uncertainty. Sometimes decisions are quick and without thought. Others linger for weeks and plague mental patterns day and night. If we value change or growth, these moments come with some frequency. These decisions mould us, shape our present reality and the roads which bring us to the next junction. We are never the same person twice. The goals which we once had years, months and even weeks back, may seem like frivolous bothers in the present. They look like minor deviations from the whirlwind of our daily lives. However, everything culminates during daily micro-decisions to bring us to new avenues of opportunity.
Letting worry take over and cloud your modern reality is a needless distraction to the bigger picture. I’m sure we would find it hard to look back and remember with fondness on our most recent worries. It is much easier and positive to look back on moments of nostalgia, even if they weren’t that great at the time. On a bicycle journey, there is a surplus of time to think. I’ve put in a great deal of time contemplating and arrived at a few conclusions. They are apparent in my present state. If you want something bad enough, you’ll chase after it, I know I have. The end is not reached with the rabbit, but only leads to another series of holes. Enjoy the hunt.
“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.” ~ Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country
It was an early morning entrance to Botswana. Another country with new sets of rules and geography. For the first time in months it was flat. I entered from the Plum Tree border station and rode on fumes to Francistown. Relaxing in the shade I made a forward plan towards South Africa. With the wide shoulder and a relatively uninteresting section of road ahead, I decided to make my break. Putting in my longest day in Africa of 176 kilometres from Francistown to Palapye I arrived after dark. Setting up my tent on some crusty ground, I cooked some tasteless pasta and it was lights out. The next day, it was up early again as I skidded off towards the South African border. There was no service stations until I reached the border over a hundred kilometres away. Drinking orange Fanta out of coolers from the side of the road, I spent my last bit of money on a fly covered bun with warm cream inside.
If you are wondering, why all the hurry? It was because I was running behind schedule for an important meeting on the horizon. My girlfriend and family were coming to visit. They were due to arrive in Johannesburg in just a matter of days. Every moment counted to get me there on time. I returned the bottle of Fanta and slugged my way to the border. Crossing into South Africa felt like I was returning to civilization. There were functioning stores in each town with a wide selection foods and affordable delights. South Africa is the most developed country, given most respects, in Africa. I quickly felt at home and the welcoming nature of the people. I saw the first McDonalds since Egypt and to say I didn’t order up the ubiquitous ‘Big Mac’ meal would be a lie. Sometimes on trips like this, that little bit of familiarity can go a long way to make you feel at ease. When everything is always new and unknown, those little pieces of the known go a long way.
Rolling into Lephalale, I was searching for a local campsite when a man almost backed his truck into me. After he saw me and we chatted a moment, he asked where I was headed. I explained my plan of action and he invited me to stay in one of his guesthouses for free. It ended up being my own apartment with hot water, kitchen and laundry. Cycling dreams are made of this magic. My new friend, Victor, introduced me to the welcoming nature of South African people. After I was rested up he invited me for a breakfast before I was off riding again. We had an instant connection and some inspiring chats. The local newspaper showed up and an impromptu interview took place. They sent me sailing with a happy first impression and a bag full of food. That night I slept on the soft green grass of the local golf course amid warthogs and skittish little monkeys.
“Travel is more than a seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard, Author
On route to Johannesburg a friend I had met in South Korea named Dene, had arranged for family members of her husbands to host me. They picked me up and took me off to their farm. Jaco and Jessie gave me the first taste of true South African ‘Braai’. You can read more on the process and style HERE. It is basically barbecue, but treated with a sport like seriousness. They even have a ‘Braai Day’, which I will get into on a following post. In any case, my first experience was a beautiful appreciation for food, as I slowly began to put on weight. One of the most amazing things they did for me while I stayed with them was returning my shoes, that were nearly headed for the garbage bin, looking brand new. At this point I only had one day to make it to the airport in time to meet my girlfriend. Jessie offered to take me most of the way into Johannesburg. I left feeling like I was part of the family and a warm energy bubbled inside. I made it to the airport with 20 minutes to spare. Cutting it close to say the least. I rubbed my burley face wishing I had time to shave.
Seeing a familiar person on a trip such as this can do more than you know. I didn’t need to introduce myself or be that guy on the bike. I was simply able to be me. With my family and girlfriend, Eliza, it was just like old times, only we were in South Africa. After a day of rest we went out on safari. Something I had only done by the seat of my bike all through Africa. Now I was the person that rolled past people in the big vehicle as hundreds of white kneed tourists had done to me throughout Africa. Only this safari was more than about just seeing herds of zebras and spotting lions. All down Africa I had thought about it carefully. On the top of a mountain just after sunrise I asked the love of my life to marry me. Slipping the ring onto her smooth trembling finger I felt all the world coming together. Looking up to see the tears in her eyes what I saw was my soulmate. The woman I would spend the rest of my days with. I am not sure what I said as the morning sun swallowed us up on that rocky outcrop. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Without the careful planning and help of my parents I couldn’t have pulled off the proposal. I am so glad we were able to share in it together.
“You must regard this deviation from plan as part of the adventure that you sought when you decided to embark on it in the first place…Absence of certainty is its essence. People…who choose to shun the mundane must not only expect, but also enjoy and profit from surprises.” ~ Adam Yamey, Aliwal
After a few days of wonderful wildlife, relaxation and full stomachs, a tearful goodbye was on the horizon as I prepared to get back on the bike. I knew saying goodbye to my parents would be tough, but seeing my new fiancée off was going to be even more difficult. I wanted to quit. I said that I had come far enough. That the end of Africa was achievement enough. I had accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I should pack it all in and call it a day, when I reached the southern edge of Africa in Cape Town. Eliza said that there was no way I was quitting. As hard as that may have been for her to say, it wasn’t what I wanted hear, but what I needed. She could have been selfish and let me take the easy way out. I could have quit right there at the airport and boarded a plane anywhere else. But I returned to my bike knowing I wouldn’t see her until I reached the finish line back in Canada, thousands of kilometres away.
Knowing everything I already do about life on the road, it would have been the easy way out. Returning to a life of comfort with vegetables in the crisper and 600 TV channels, would be ideal for a time. But, that route would have haunted me in years to come. Like a puzzle missing the final piece, I would only see that hole. The rest of the picture would be forgotten. Eliza could see this. As much as she may have wanted me to quit, she supported my dream without a doubt. This is what every man wants. To feel the support and understanding of his mindless plight. To be there for him when the future he presents is a bit hazy. She looked into my eyes and beyond the shadowy thunder that is my mind, she saw something more. On first day I ever met Eliza, I told her that I would ride a bicycle (which I didn’t even own at the time) around the world. She never thought I was joking and she stuck by me through all of those distant nights. If I were to quit now, it would be breaking the very first promise ever I made to her. Now, that is something I could never live with.
*The rest of the South Africa story will continue in the next post along with adventures through ruggedly beautiful Lesotho and eventually to the stunning coast of the Garden Route towards the end of Africa in Cape Town.
**Please continue to help support funding for the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. We are less than $1,600 away from reaching our goal. Which is so amazing! Thank you for the surprise early donations from some of our supporting schools back in Eastern Ontario. You guys rock! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***To follow along with daily photo updates from my phone through the South American section of the journey link to my Instagram by CLICKING HERE.