Monday, June 4, 2012

Bicycles and Bunting in Lusaka

At the Lusaka Backpackers FurtembaSherpa had given us the pleasure of his company for over a week.  Sherpa, who hails from Nepal, has been cycling around the world since 2003, and plans to continue until 2020—promoting a message of world peace and environmentalism.  In each city where he stops, Sherpa meets with city leaders, school children, and other civil society groups, passing on his message and urging that municipalities make their roads safer and more conducive to the bike travel which would allow people to rely less on cars.  He discusses forms of renewable energy, and the many needs and values that people everywhere have in common.  It is no wonder, in a world in which public figures often seem full of selfishness and malice, that he is well-received by people everywhere he travels.  Here in Lusaka, he met the mayor, spoke at schools, and gave an interview to television stations and the country’s largest independent newspaper, The Post

World cyclist Furtemba Sherpa with Lusaka's Nepalese community and other well-wishers (Photo from Furtemba Sherpa).
As you can imagine, after nine years on the road, Sherpa has his share of stories, and described his experiences with the Afghan police while cycling through that country.  While travelling between New York and Boston he had another run-in with the police when he accidentally pedalled onto a major freeway during a raging rainstorm.  When the police pulled him over and he explained his mission, they were on the verge of taking him to the mental ward until he produced a letter of introduction from his home country, after which they closed off two lanes of the freeway to escort him to the nearest cycle-able road.

Sherpa has met and received accolades from Prime Ministers, mayors, and other notables all around the world, but he can also count on the support of the local Nepalese community wherever he goes, and described his surprise at finding such communities in virtually every country through which he has travelled.  Businessmen, NGO workers, and Nepalese-staffed United Nations peacekeeping missions have all helped him on his way. 

Lusaka was no different.  On Sunday, when Sherpa was preparing to set off on the road again, we all gathered to see him off, and as he was strapping down his last few belongings to his bike, Lusaka’s Nepalese community arrived in force (it’s about 10 strong) to bid him farewell.  This entailed some minor repacking as they gave him food for the road.  It was very touching to see two children give him yoghurt as a farewell gesture, and you could tell the kids were thrilled to see this real-live Nepalese hero again.

We stood in the yard and watched him go out the gate, down the road, and off towards Victoria Falls, and from there, through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa...until 2020.

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Sunday afternoon saw a ‘street party’ for the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee celebration.  The British High Commission in Lusaka was apparently not doing anything for the occasion, so it fell to Lusaka Backpackers to put out the bunting.  There was a cake decorated with corgis and Prince Philip’s mug, scotch eggs, and the event itself live on TV.  The semi-engaged audience was a motley assortment of Zambians, expats, and travellers.
Preparations in place for Lusaka's celebration of Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee.

A staunch republican, I crossed my fingers during the festivities, but enjoyed watching the mad-house that was the Thames and the embankment as the royal flotilla made its way down the river past all the great London landmarks.  The somewhat impertinent commentary we provided on-site in Lusaka went something like ‘What if she falls in the water while stepping between boats?’, ‘What if those boats collided?’, ‘I want a job as a Royal Correspondent for the BBC so that I can spout gibberish for two hours on live television!’, and so on. 

Dinner consisted of fish & chips or bangers & mash, and the viewing was cut short by a power outage, at which point one party was heard to mutter irreverently, “There’s only so much of the Queen waving at boats you can take without wanting to shoot yourself”.   People retired to lawn chairs scattered around the yard, and hunched over charcoal fires as Lusaka’s wintry, breezy evening weather set in. 

Given how chaotic things looked in London, I expect our low-key Jubilee celebrations in Lusaka were much more pleasant! 

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