Sebastian is five. He is walking along the dusty verge of the road with a five-litre container of water held stable on his head with his left hand. His little sister’s hand is grasped firmly in his right. It is hot and the diminutive pair plod slowly in the wake of their mother who has a yellow, ‘Made in China’ water container on her head. It weighs 20kg but she needs no hands to steady it. Her long-practiced, smooth gait is second nature and her muscular neck is comfortably rigid; perfectly straight. She also has a baby tightly tied to her lower back with a sheet of cotton, the colourful patterns now faded.
They have nearly completed the one-mile walk home from the borehole pump. All around is dry, yellowing bush. The rains will come soon. This is life as usual – nothing ever changes. But, Sebastian’s mother suddenly stops walking and gazes ahead; squinting in the land-bleaching sunlight. The little boy and girl come out of their cosy walking trance as they stop behind their mother. There is something – a shape she does not recognise – approaching on the road. The heat dancing off the pale, potholed tarmac distorts whatever it is into a wavering, amorphous blob. However, it gets closer and becomes a bicycle carrying things.
Bicycles are normal here, the easiest way to carry heavy loads. Nobody in the village owns a car. Still, there is something different about this bicycle shape. These are not bundles of wood or bags of charcoal or a tightly-bound goat being carried. They are unfamiliar bags. Worse still, as the rider nears the increasingly-uncertain group of three, the high sun’s darkening, silhouetting effect fades and it becomes a white man. A white man with hair all over his face and head. This is either Jesus come to save us or a stranger, a bad man, bringing nothing but trouble!
Sebastian’s mother makes a decision as her panic rises. She grabs his hand. He grips his sister’s hand tighter and the four Mozambican villagers hurry into the bushes, dropping Sebastian’s water in their frantic dash. They peer out as the amused, and yet a little offended, white-skinned apparition cycles past looking back at their uncertain, leaf-obscured faces.
It wasn’t Jesus. It was me, and I am not him, despite being called by his name on a daily basis for the last couple of months. His name... and also that of Chuck Norris. Bush dwellers on Northern Mozambique’s little travelled roads fled from me on an hourly basis.
Such is life for an around-the-world cyclist.
Charlie Walker is a bicycle adventurer who is a quarter of the way through a four year, 40,000 mile cycle trip to the four corners of the Earth. He is hoping to raise £20,000 for a variety of charities. You can follow his exploits on his website, CharlieWalkerExplore.
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