Cycling Stories

Stacy and I Help Build a Nation

March 3, 2020

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Stacy and I Help Build a Nation

“I’ve tried capturing the essence of cycling in Africa in this article. To introduce the readers to not only the experience of cycling as a form of exercise and entertainment, but also as a means of earning a livelihood.”

Alvin Kiiru

I can’t help but smile as I reminisce about my teenage years, around sixteen or seventeen, and the relationship I had with Stacy, my black mamba bicycle. We’ve drifted apart since I went to further my education in the nation’s capital. But back in the day? Damn. We had some good times.

I got Stacy from an old family friend who worked as a part-time pastor and frequently stopped by my grandma’s house. To him, the bicycle was not only his transportation but also the vehicle through which he delivered his message of redemption and the final coming of Christ to the villagers in less developed townships.

When our pastor friend moved into another, more distant city, he left me the bicycle as a parting present. At that point, without his knowledge, he triggered a bond that would last for years.

A common example of a Black Mamba bicycle. Credit: shecyclesnairobi.wordpress.com

Important Deliveries (and Connections) to Make

It’s four o’clock in the morning, and a slight drizzle is hanging over my township. After waking and feeling the cold, I lightly curse, “Damn. I’m already late.” I have to be at the depot in less than ten minutes.

I hurry around, looking for whatever I can wear for warmth. I rush out to the storage compartment in the yard, and there she is, my beauty. It has now been around two years since the pastor left her with me to take care of. I hear nowadays he has even bought a car. I couldn’t care less.

Stacy was handed down to me a little rusty, to say the least. I managed to bring her back to restored glory, though, through endless trips to Mwangi, our local bike repairman. He does both motorbikes and bicycles, a really skilled guy.

With chain replacements, brake reinforcement (in Africa, we disable front brakes, which is an entire story on its own, maybe for another day), saddle support, and a whole paint job, Stacy was the “it” bike of my township. Heck, we even installed side mirrors.

Although I am already late to “work,” time freezes whenever I touch Stacy’s frame. I can’t help but think of her and her ancestors, who were brought to Africa by colonialists, and awarded to our greats. At that instant, a weird feeling rushes through my blood. For some reason, I feel as though I am connected to them.

To them, cycling was an art. Too poor to own the classy and desired Peugeots and Datsuns, bicycles were the alternative display of class and family wealth.  They worshipped black mambas and even formed societies grouping themselves according to the haves and have nots—and owning one would increase your societal stature equivalent to that of the local chief.

Owning Stacy, I always felt, gave me some sort of connection to them, to my heritage, my ancestry, my identity. And it is something I held dear.

The Thrill of Speed

I take Stacy out of storage and gently guide her outside and through the gate. Her chain makes a steady, but light, hissing noise as if it’s her way of wishing me a good morning.  God, I love her. 

Once outside the gate, I lightly lock her up to avoid waking my grandma, who fell asleep late the previous night, judging by the noises coming from her bedroom TV.

After putting on my raincoat and strapping a light to my bike, I hop on. Adrenaline rushes through my veins as I put my foot on the pedal and begin cycling. The feeling of so much power, so much control, always gives me a rush I cannot explain.

It’s around four-thirty now, and I’m pretty sure no one is on the streets, so I let Stacy express herself.

Credit: Unsplash

My grandma has warned me several times about my speed while riding. Speed has always been an issue with both of us. But in all honesty, I don’t care. As soon as my foot is on the pedal, nothing else matters.

I am a knight, and Stacy is my horse. We move swiftly and in unison, like ballerinas dancing to a tune, and at that moment, every other thing—the drizzle, the wind, the cold, the people, the traffic—don’t matter. If anything, they become a part of the symphony.

Building the Nation

I arrive at the depot in around fifteen minutes.

Due to the weather, I’m the second or third cyclist there. Our job is to pick up loaves of bread in crates and transport them to local shops, from which the town’s men and women come to purchase and fulfill their need for a satisfactory breakfast before they head out to work building the nation.

I like to think of Stacy and me as the initiators of the Kenyan dream. If we do not complete our work on time, people will not eat breakfast, and they, therefore, will not receive the energy needed to work, especially on cold mornings such as this one.

We cover our crates with polyethylene bags to ensure that they do not get wet and start the journey. Everyone cycling to their assigned areas. If you think that Stacy on her own sounds like a melody, wait till you hear a fleet of bicycles roaring down the street. It’s a near eargasmic feeling.

Most of the people I work with are much, much older. While this is a side gig for me, a way to earn some extra cash to buy new videogames or to spend on airtime and internet, this is how they earn their daily bread, ironically. The only qualification for the job is owning a black mamba and being able to wake up early and consistently. Their bicycles feed them and their families.

It’s around eight in the morning, and I’ve already finished the day’s deliveries. The town is beginning to look alive, as people leave for their jobs. I scurry home to catch up on lost sleep.

I meet my shosh­ – grandma, who asks me how the morning’s delivery went. Small chitchat here and there, and a cup of tea. A loaf of bread.

Stacy is back in storage, resting, drying off.  I’ll take her out one more time today after I nap. Maureen, my childhood crush, just accepted my invitation to take her out to see the sights, and in my mind, I am already planning the ride of her life, which, of course, is a story for another day.

Alvin Kiiru is an independent writer and programmer from Nairobi, Kenya.
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