You’ll all be pleased to hear that I made it through my motorbike training this week. I had not been on a bike since completing my CBT back in August so was quite apprehensive about whether I would remember it all or not. I need not have worried as it was just like riding a bike!!! The first day we turned up at 9am, when we were due to start, and in true Gambian style we didn’t get started till about 11am and even then we didn’t get to ride a bike. Instead our instructor, Saliuman, talked us through basic maintenance, erstwhile known as PLANS!! He then proceeded to tell us that a lot of the bikes were missing the equipment to do this up country, so chances are we can’t even carry out PLANS anyway. The next day the ‘3 amigos’ (Niema, Fatu and I) finally got to get on the bikes. We were taken to a sandy field and practised riding round and round and round and round and...you get the picture! Meanwhile, about 20 Gambians were football training next to us, which was slightly off putting as the ball had a nasty habit of bouncing into our ‘race track’! On one such occasion it happened to be myself who was in the way. Naturally, these boys decided to chase after it and in a blind panic and to stop crashing into them, I decided to fall off rather than stop. In reality, I had forgotten how to stop the blasted thing! However, I dusted myself off and prepared to get back on and carry on riding around. Our instructor had different ideas though and a punch-up almost ensued between him and what I assume was the football coach. Thankfully, things calmed down and both groups carried on with our respective activities.
The next day we finally got out on the tarmac (again an hour or so after we arrived) and I managed to get out of 2nd gear, which was great. Everything was going well and we were all enjoying it. Then Fatu fell off her bike and hurt her hand. Sal went off to get ice and on his return he was a completely different man. Usually, he is a very happy, friendly Gambian, who likes to chat and very outgoing. Suddenly, he would barely talk to us or want to carry on with the training. I swear he was crying. As Fatu had hurt herself, he had taken on her pain and it was like he had hurt his hand too. It was very strange and a little bit unnerving to be honest, but that’s the way Gambian’s are. They take your pain on themselves and literally feel what you feel rather than just sympathising as we would do.
So now the ‘3 amigos’ were down to ‘2’, with Fatu resting her hand on doctor’s orders for a few days. We had more riding on the road, riding on the right as well! It was good fun, but the roads we took were quiet. For our last day of training, we drove through Serre-kunda market. So busy with cars, taxis, gelli-gellis, not pleasant and far too busy. Eventually, we got out of the town and into the bush. Riding on sand is quite strange. Your back wheel feels like it is slipping out from behind you at times, especially when it is deep. The temptation is to stop, but do this and you’ll fall off. The secret is to keep going and keep applying the throttle, eventually you make it out. I much preferred this to the market and it is what the roads will be like around Basse, so this day was much more beneficial for us. Also the roads are a lot quieter in the rural areas, with a lot less vehicles, but more donkeys and carts! So Niema and I passed, in spite of my wheelie (which thankfully Sal did not witness nor hear about!) I would like to say it was a well planned, carefully controlled stunt, but I’d be lying. I just gave to much rev on the throttle and the bike got away from me! But I did stay on and no accidents happened in the making of my wheelie.
Saturday was a public holiday as declared by the President, Set Settal or Clean the Nation. Usually the last Saturday of every month, between 9am and 1pm everyone must stay in their compound to clean it and their local environment. Nothing is open and there are no taxis or gelli-gellis running. Needless to say we used it as an excuse to have a well deserved lie in!
We are finally off up country on Wednesday, me to Basse and Fatu and Niema to their towns. I can’t wait!