Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Traveling Bike Sales Caravan

Friday morning I met Felix at the warehouse in Ruhengeri to load up our Project Rwanda Cargo Bikes to take to COPAC, a coffee coop in Gisenyi. Thanks to the generosity of Heidi Morgan, from Equal World Coffee (, and her group, ten coffee farmers in Gisenyi just got a break...

Felix and I were met at the warehouse at 7:00am by my driver and my rental Diahatsu. I love Rwandans...our driver was all dressed up in his Sunday best, pin stripe pants, black and iridescent blue shirt straight from the set of Saturday Night Fever. As you can see we managed to get all 10 bikes into the back of the truck, plus 1 demo bike to take to the Police Commander in Gisenyi.

We finally got on the road to Gisenyi about 8:15. The road to Gisenyi is nice, no potholes, not too twisty, a nice easy drive. Jenny and I were following Felix and the driver and we were so amazed by the looks on the faces of all the people as we passed. Everyone and I do mean every single person, stopped and followed with their eyes and the direction of their head, our truck of bikes. I had never seen anything like it! They were completely mesmerized.

A little over an hour later we pull into COPAC and start unloading the bikes. Heidi's group was coming the next day to present but as soon as we began unloading we had a crowd. All the workers wanted to have their picture taken with the bikes. Even our driver had to get in the mix.

It still always amazes me how these bikes impact these people. A bike is everything to them. It is their livlihood. I continue to be overcome with emotion when I deliver bikes. I am Mrs. Claus on an October afternoon in Rwanda. It rocks!

Our next stop was the Police Commander's office. We had a lead on a couple of taxi coops that wanted our bikes but had been told by the police they could not use them in town. We wanted to get the blessing from the Police Commander. We found out that no they couldn't transport people on the tarmac (asphalt streets) in town but they could still use our bikes to haul goods. Dual purpose, dual income streams the people of Rwanda do understand distribution. Plus, there really isn't much "tarmac" here in Rwanda!

So, with the police commander's assistant in tow, Felix, Jenny and I (and our happily involved driver), head through some gnarly, pumice covered roads behind the town and arrive at the Taxi stand/mechanic shop. It is nothing like you see in the movies! What I love about Rwanda but what makes most people very uncomfortable is when you stop, especially as a Muzungu, and start talking to a couple of people, before you know it you are surrounded by a crowd that continues to grow. It's the weirdest thing. You don't see all these people when you first start talking and then you look behind you and all before you is a sea of Rwandan faces hanging on your every word....well, Felix's words. Kinyarwanda is not progressing well for me. If you are claustorphobic it would freak you out. For some people it is just too uncomfortable and unnerving. I oddly feel right at home.

We walk away from the taxi coops with an order for 80 more PR bikes! YES!!

Jenny and I race back to Ruhengeri to meet with three guys our friend Tom Allen wanted to introduce us to. They work for Tyson. Tyson is currently in the process of starting an egg laying facility. I have been working with them to design and manufacture an egg rack for our bikes. They would like to haul at least 30 dozen per bike. Tyson is looking for entreprenuers, independent contractors to work the egg distribution routes....all done on PR bikes. This is when I'm reminded that I really do live in a third world country.

Project Rwanda is distributing bikes...a lot of bikes....why the sudden upsurge? For another blog...

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