Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mr. Pi’s cycling equation

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It is all improvised.

So says Andrew "Mr. Pi" - the salt and pepper mustachioed math teacher from the American International School of Abuja. He comes to Nigeria from Poland via Chicago, his last name one of those sneezes of consonants has been shortened to the mathematically appropriate diminutive.

Andrew is talking about the traffic as we return; bikes stepped to the back of his Toyota sedan, from a cycling excursion around the dam twenty minutes outside of the city. A whole lot of what I have seen in our couple of weeks here in Africa is the result of folks improvising. The teachers we have been working with have given up many of the things that citizens back home don't even think twice about, shipments of household belongings arrive but get ensnared in red tape, favorite foods are nonexistent, power flickers on and off as if it is controlled by a roulette wheel and a mosquito bite could lay you up for weeks - you don't even want to know what a spider bite might do - but they carry on with smiles.

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And right on cue, as I write this sitting in the Abuja airport we are delayed two hours - just enough time to make catching our connecting flight in Lagos to Accra a very iffy proposition - we too may soon be finding ourselves having to improvise.

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Anyway, this is supposed to be a post about the bike rides I took with Mr. Pi.

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Riding a bicycle is the closest thing one can do to self powered flying and remain connected to the earth. Cutting through the wind, gliding and bumping along faster and smoother than one could run but still cutting a narrow swath. You cover more distance quicker but you can still notice things that would be smear from a car's window. The second advantage of exploring a new and wonderfully strange place on two wheels is more often than not the locals give you a free pass - much as people everywhere cut the addle minded a little slack, bicyclists are treated as a benign anomaly.

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Backpack, water bottle wedged in a cage, a helmet that looks like half a perforated egg shell, wrap around shades and bright colored spandex makes for a source of joyful amusement when dropped into a hillside village in Borneo, a palm oil plantation in Sumatra, inner city Cleveland or amongst a clutch of thatched roundhouses on the outskirts of Abuja, Nigeria.

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Friday after school Andrew and I went on a little test ride through the city streets near the apartment complex where Sara and I were staying tie hour hosts Lyle and Rita. Children laughed and grownups waved - we passed through with an immunity that would usually be reserved for a clown on a unicycle. When we stopped people chatted with us, straddling that bike as we stood there, we posed no threat.

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The next morning we started out around 7am - enough time to get a couple hours in before heading out to the airport (where, unfortunately, we would sit for hours).

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We drove to the dam and parked the car by the gates of a German run sailing club. The club has no boats - Andrew says there was rumor of the joint having had a single catamaran years ago but where that vessel is - is unknown to humankind. The place is not closed down, just a boat club with no boats - it makes total sense in Nigeria.

The ride around the dam was great, we came upon a couple villages did some muddy single track and Mr. Pi talked with some cows. I will let the pictures do the talking. My only regret - a regret that is becoming a refrain for this trip to Africa, is that I had too little time to spend.

Next time, we have to be sure to build in a little extra time to allow for some improvisation.

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