Cycling in West Africa can sometimes challenge some strong stereotypes,
The bicycle is the poor man’s way to travel.
The bicycle is just a donkey. It’s no good.
The bicycle is not for a woman*.
For me, the last has had true resonance. Some of the comments, responses and hecklers have been worth remembering, some not! Here are a few of my favourites…
‘Hey bicycle sister!‘
‘You are a terrible husband. Look at your poor wife. She is so tired.’ (Multiple men have exclaimed this to Imran in horror).
‘Well now you will never have children‘, (Bassekou Kouyaté’s mother, Yakaré. She now requires evidence should I ever have any children).
‘Strong woman. Strong, strong woman.‘
‘So you cycled here all the way from England? And your wife, she flew to meet you?‘
(Yelled out of a truck window by a grinning driver as I cycled up a steep hill in Ghana)… ‘Hey achey, achey! You ache because you are a woman!‘
(Shouted by many beautifully rotund Ghanaian mothers) ‘Eat sister, eat to bicycle!!!!‘, (hand gesture of food to mouth as I cycle past).
On entering a shop accompanied by two other male cyclists, (male shopkeeper to me), ‘you’re tired, sit here now‘. I respond (rather sharply) ‘I am not tired thank you I will stand‘. Thirty minutes later I am forced to request his floor for a nap, he smiles understandingly.
(In response to our journey), ‘I prefer the Mercedes.‘ (My friend Fatu, wife of Gambian musician Jaliba Kuyateh and a formidable female force, though no cyclist!).
*Note: In Burkina Faso many women cycle.