France au revoir

‘Monique, you need a good France au revoir’, Ibrahim tells me. I look at him with a huge question mark expression on my face.
‘A what?’, I ask him.
‘A France au revoir!’ he repeats.

We had seen almost every pocket of town, searching for a bicycle for me that day. Because, even when living abroad, you always stay Dutch and a bicycle is actually a quite comfortable means of transportation for the shorter distances and provides a lot of freedom.

Sure enough, we hadn’t been able to find a suitable bike, that is a ladies bike. That first day I thought of that as something really strange. It was only later that I realized that I had not even seen a single Malian woman on a bicycle. I was told that the average Malian woman does not think of a bicycle as an elegant means of transport. To be a bit classy you need to have a scooter or being driven around by someone on a scooter. If not, you’ll walk.

Well, luckily I’m a ‘toubab’ and I do not really care that woman do not ride bicycles in Mali. I like riding my bike and so I was determined to find a bicycle and even willing to travel back to my least favorite Malian city Bamako to buy one.

‘No Monique, it’s not necessary to travel to Bamako, we will find you a nice France au revoir and they are way better than those cheap Chinese mountain bikes,’ Ibrahim continued. Okay, so that’s what it is: a bicycle that is given a second life in Africa, after having been dumped in Europe. It must have been quite obvious that I did not have too much confidence in those France au revoirs, because Ibrahim started laughing, saying I did not need to worry. He had already contacted his friend Ibrahim, who was in the neighboring country Burkina Faso at that moment and he had already spotted a nice bike for me and would bring it when he traveled back to Ségou in the next couple of days. And so happened!

Two days later Ibrahim had arrived with my France au revoir, a really nice ladies bike, painted in two of my favorite colors, orange and bright green. A city bike with hand brakes, gears and even a shopping basket. What a lucky girl I was!
The very first day I hit the roads with it, the police stopped me at the roundabout, apparently I had not noticed a sign that I was not supposed to enter the roundabout from that point. I got away with it due to my innocent smile…

My bicycle is by now probably the best-known bike in town and loved by many of my friends. It even made it to rental bike to meet Ibrahim’s need for bicycles for a group of Dutch tourists. And quite often I’m being asked how my bike is doing. Well, it’s doing well, but it’s also having quite a tough time in Mali. Not only because it’s ridden by many, but it’s just not built for the Malian ‘road’ circumstances. On the sandy roads the tires are just a tiny bit too thin, making me sway from left to right, often ending with an unexpected stop when the sand is too loose. The many bumps and holes in the road have more than once loosened the screws that are necessary to hold all parts in place and after having tried many other things, I’ve finally fixed the problem with super glue (I’ve become a huge fan of it, since I live here!).

I’ve already had two flat tires, the chain has been repaired and the tires are almost at their end and it’s still the question if we’ll find them here. I feel the bike is getting ‘tired’ more and more every day and am wondering how much longer it will last. Probably not the ‘more than 10 years’ Amadou has predicted. I’ve already decided that the next one is going to be a mountain bike, built for sandy roads, whether it comes from China or not.

And sure enough my France au revoir is… Made in China and has another flat tire..!

Wishing all of you a Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you the fulfillment of your deepest wishes and longings!

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About MoInMali

Monique is the founder of Papillon Reizen, a Mali based travel agency specialized in inspiring journeys in Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. Fair-trade and with a heart for people, environment and culture. Small-scale group journeys as well as family trips and journeys tailored to your wishes. We love to share West Africa's beauty with you and take you on a journey to experience rather than to see. Monique lives in Mali with her Malian partner and shares some of her daily life experiences with you through this blog. For information on Papillon Reizen: www.papillonreizen.com
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