Monday, August 25, 2008

Bestowing of Bikes, or Christmas in August

by Julie Carney
Thanks to the ingenuity and generosity of Clif Hayward (One Mango Tree's marketing advisor) and his friends, Lucy and her tailors have shiny new transport. Admittedly, I did not realize the full value that bicycles would bring to the One Mango Tree tailors until I arrived in Gulu, visited some of their homes, and ‘put myself in their shoes,’ so to speak. All of the tailors live outside of town, and walking to and from work takes up much of their time, especially when they each have family to take care of in the morning and night. Bicycles are an excellent business investment, as they cut the time the tailors spend on the road, which means more time at work and more time at home.

It did take some days of negotiation to get the bikes. Lucy, Prisca, Monica, Kevin, Sarah and Frances were intent on making sure they got the right bikes, the bikes that would not break easily. Much time was spent analyzing carefully the bikes of their neighbors and the bikes they passed in town. And we were happy to let them choose the bikes for themselves. They chose well.

It was a Monday, late afternoon, when the bikes were finally ready. They were so excited. We followed Lucy to the bike shop, where there were six shiny new bikes, just in from Kenya, out of their plastic wrap and serviced. Kevin, Sarah, Monica and Prisca were beaming. Each new bike has a sturdy basket at the front, a lock with a key, a reflector, and a sticker that says “Smart Lady.” In Uganda, the word “smart” signifies good-looking and well put together. And these were the smartest bikes I’ve seen in Gulu Town to date. Each tailor picked out their bike, five silver ones and a pink one for Lucy, and walked them down the street toward Holy Rosary Church, where Lucy had arranged to get the bicycles blessed from her parish priest. We made quite a parade of “smart ladies.”

We gathered outside in the church courtyard with Lucy’s priest, and surrounded the bikes, as the priest said words of appreciation and caution. The tailors were laughing, the sun was out, and the priest’s words were inspiring. At one point, he asked the women to be conscious of other passengers on the road – contrary to NGO vehicles’ modus operandi of inconsideration. “These NGOs are supposed to help us, but they drive fast and splash mud on people,” he said. “That is not respect.”

After the blessing, we walked the bikes back to Bora Bora Hotel, where we held a small celebration. We ate cake and drank mango juice and relaxed. Then, as the sun was setting over Gulu Town, the tailors hopped on their new rides, and road home, into the sunset.

On a side note, a few days after our bicycle celebration, I walked past the District Council Office, where UNDP was holding a celebration, doling out a few hundred “Peace Bikes” for some village women. And I am happy to note that the One Mango Tree bikes are much “smarter.”

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