It is amazing how things begin to flare up once the first embers of an idea are stoked. Preparing for what was going to be a fairly small time fund raiser for an ambitious young organization in Uganda has led to buckets of new contacts, new ideas, and new connections. By now my simple, plodding bike trip around Lake Victoria at the heart of east Africa has been inflated to take on a new form.
Let’s take it to the radio!
Let’s have a press conference!
Let’s make it an annual event!
Let’s make a documentary!
All of these ideations have been suggested by people we’ve interacted with: town council bureaucrats, radio producers, friends and family. It’s quite possible that all of them and more will be realized. Making this thing huge is the name of the game, and even with only 13 days until I leave town, it’s only growing. The smolderings of a silly idea have become a roaring inferno.
Out on the Street
The organization, PMK Save the Future Generation, has a president. His name is Lucky Peter. He and I have been tearing around on our bicycles performing numerous presentations, slinging proposals, pleading for official looking documents, and visiting companies with charitable reputations. We suffer stymies in the form of flat tires or in the form of stuck-up receptionists playing brick-wall to two sweaty guys asking for money.
But really success has been the theme, and more people have embraced the idea of an adventurous expatriate trying to raise money for a community bank than have turned up their noses. Each time we expose our tender proposal to a corporate manager or a radio station director, we are countered with tough questions, and each time, we have all the right answers. The result is sincere consideration and promises for some kind of contribution. While we wait for corporate dollars to roll in from some telecom and real estate companies, we enjoy having booked airtime on multiple radio stations. If nothing else, we can jabber on the airwaves about the future of the community bank as a great unifying force in the Kazo ward. Someone with some money and a big ole heart will hear us… right?
Being that it’s going to be me actually doing the riding, my concern and responsibility lies with trip logistics. I’ve got a crappy, outdated map (undated, actually, but I figure it’s outdated since many town names are wrong) of the Great lakes region where I’ve traced my route with a ballpoint. The same pen scribbles lists of place names and phone numbers of people who’ve offered to donate their spare bedroom to me when I come crashing into their town.
I busy myself with visiting the Tanzanian and Kenyan embassies. The Tanzanian consulate was pleasantly un-crowded when I first visited, and the ladies at the reception were a cheery pair, gabbing in Swahili from behind a barrier bedecked with big calendars featuring sleepy lions. After revealing my plan for success, I asked them how much a visa costs.
“Here you can get multi-entry for fifty dollars. It lasts for one year.”
“Great! Wait. I’m American. Do I still pay fifty?” I already knew the price for me was twice that.
“Oh! You’re American? One hundred for Americans.”
“Awww c’mon!” I jested at the injustice, “One hundred for Americans to get a visa? What’s up with that?”
“Aww c’mon!” she retorted without missing a beat, “One hundred for Tanzanians to go to America? What’s up with that?”
Touché. It is true that the USA is the most exclusive, expensive to travel to for a non-citizen. We laughed.
Some days I weave through the chaos of downtown Kampala’s vehicular arteries to browse the bike shops for the latest in bad Chinese tires, pumps, and tools. My black bike, Victory 2, has some shiny new black Chinese fenders which work wonders for its figure and protect me from the mud. I do what I can to tune up the thing with tools borrowed from Lucky Peter’s charming grandpa.
My thighs are also being tuned up nicely. I had drafted a little bit of a ramp-up training program, but I find it to be redundant. Connecting the dots between several company headquarters, organization offices, and radio stations around Kampala on a bicycle makes for twenty mile days every day. Cycling saves us maybe fifty-thousand shillings every day, which is a lot for an organization which has zero shillings. Also, showing up on bikes is goes to provide further legitimacy to our cause.
“You’re riding your bike around Uganda?”
“Yep,” I say, sweating, “that one there.”
“You rode here? But it’s raining!”
The only people who aren’t completely thrown off by my ambitious trip are the cycling dudes, which is only natural. The Kampala Cycling Club guys all push the latest, narrow road bikes imported from Europe with bulging thighs. From time to time, they send someone to Holland or Italy to score supplies of real (not Chinese) bike chains, cables, and other essential replacement parts. I spoke with Yusuf, a main man with KCC, who has done cycling tours around the lake before.
“You forgot to add the National Park fees in your budget.”
“One part is in Serengeti National Park. One time I rode through there and saw sixty lions by a river. We waited for hours for a car to come by and escort us past.”
At a recent gathering of locally operating non-profits, I gave my spiel to the thirty-or-so reps that were present. I was well received, having emphasized the community bank which is the light at the end of my cycling tunnel. Our friend Bob, a coordinator of the network, and a man who has helped with media and corporate contacts, started an impromptu funds drive on our behalf.
“Our friend Peter has come all the way from the US to give his life to raise money for this organization! It would be a shame to leave here today without contributing.” He said, laying fifty thousand shillings on the table to get things rolling.
I think he meant “…risk his life to raise money…” but even that seems drastic. Though you never know when there are lions in the picture.
So what have I learned? Get started. If the idea is good, there will be unprecedented involvement from unexpected places. Roll with it.