The Long Way to Salima

There was a big event in Lilongwe on Saturday, which I’m really please to have been part of.

“Ride on! Speak out!”

That is the slogan behind a UN campaign to end violence against women and girls. The campaign involves a big convoy of Harley Davidsons being ridden through southern Africa to raise awareness of domestic abuse, which unfortunately is rife in many countries and rarely spoke about.

I won’t repeat their official material here. Please check out their website

Earlier that week, I saw a post on Lilongwe Chat, the local Google group, which hosts postings from garage sale to wanted ads for lost pets! One post mentioned that a team of Harleys are coming from the Zambian border on a charity tour and will be stopping at the Sunbird Capital hotel on Friday night before heading into city centre as part of a procession on Saturday morning. Any local riders were welcome to come along and join in. So I thought: “Why not?!” and replied to register.

Little did I know that it was a seriously extravagant affair that involved a police escort (normally the President’s detail) which forced all other vehicles off the road, including the oncoming traffic on a single carriage way. Plus dancers, singers, public speech and rally, and a massive logistics operation!

So I turned up at Sunbird on my little loaned Yamaha YBR125. Gobsmacked by the sight of 20 massive Harleys filling the front parking lot of the hotel. I met Eddie (one of the riders from South Africa), Owen (a local guy who brought his very nice Rizla livery Suzuki “crotch rocket” GSXR 1000) and Ronak (a local businessman on his sparkling new BMW GS650). We did our bike talk, like proper men, as more Harley riders came out from reception and got ready to ride.

9 am-ish came and we departed for the Game shopping centre, in city centre. The noise the Harleys made was phenomenal. They are some serious machines. Trying not to be overawed, or indeed left behind, by the procession and surrounding police escort, I did my best to keep up and not look too out of place!

I must say that the Malawian police escort team were superb. Well rehearsed synchronised riding, always in control of the traffic from all directions. They didn’t hang about and looked really organised.

We got to Game in double quick time. Thanks to the escort. There was a dedicated parking area cordoned off ready for us to park up. Dilemma! Where do I park??? I went for the low key option and stuck to the side, a respectable distance away from the Harleys.

10 minutes later, we’re all asked to ride around the parking lot, make some noise and park in a line formation. 2 minutes and lots of noise (from everyone except me) later, we were all in a line with my little 125 at the end! Not even my Valentino Rossi 46 t-shirt (a beloved leaving present from my workmates) and (equally beloved) Dainese jacket could hide the fact I was very, very out of place.

Anyway, queue lots of dancing, singing, educational drama and most importantly, a strong speech about ending violence against women and girls. “Real men do not hit women and children”. Well said Wes!

Not forgetting about some training I had just before coming to Malawi, courtesy of the Metropolitan Police. I took my BikeSafe London high-visibility jacket along. I didn’t wear it in broad daylight obviously(!) but did take some pictures with it in frame. Never miss a promotion opportunity!

Since everyone was in such good spirit, I thought I’d try my luck and get on a police bike. All authorities here are normally very strict. Understandably so, to maintain law and order. But on Saturday, they were cool. We small-talked and I persuaded one rider to let me sit on his police bike. Then I got passer-by to take a couple of photos. Never miss a good photo opportunity!

45 minutes later, the impressive show put on by Theatre for a Change wrapped up. We all got back on our bikes and were escorted back to the Capital Hotel. That should have been the end but Ronak floated the idea that we ride with them to their next stop, Salima. Why not eh?!

So Ronak and I arranged to meet back at the hotel in an hour. Except for one problem… there is a national petrol shortage so we were both very low on fuel. Fear not, this is a UN sponsored operation! In fact, the Harleys were also low on fuel. So a pickup truck with a considerable fuel tank on the back shows up and we all queue to be filled by two guys hand cranking petrol, trying not to spray it everywhere (with mixed results).

We all hang around the hotel while the support vehicle was being repaired at a local mechanic’s workshop, where it’s been since the morning. We were waiting in the front parking lot when it suddenly appeared down the drive. It pulled up, stopped, right at the front door of the hotel. 1 minute later, quite a lot of swearing happens and the surprise of the day is discovered… the trailer lost one of its wheels! Another minute later, a Sunbird ground staff runs down the same drive pushing the wheel along the way. Mighty relief by the support crew. However, now they had to find some wheel-nuts! A lot of searching and frantic calling later, they had no choice but to take a nut from each of the other three wheels.

At 14:30, everyone was finally ready to depart for Salima. We all hopped on and rode. Under police escort again until the first roadblock on the M14 where they would end their escort.Pretty much 1km after the escort ended, a very sad truth was realised. There was no way I could keep up the Harleys! Despite redlining my little 125 at every opportunity, it could only manage 80 kph on a flat road. 80 kph may be the speed limit here but it’s certainly not the Harleys’ cruising speed. So I had to turn back and head home.

I managed to speak to the videographer a little before we left the hotel and they’re making full documentary of their entire trip. So I look forward to seeing it next year. Maybe the epic wheelie I pulled along President’s Way will make a little cameo.

I hope you found some wheel-nuts at Salima guys. Ride on! Speak Out!

Eddie at Sunbird Capital

Eddie at Sunbird Capital

Harleys formation #1

Harleys formation #1

Different angle

Different angle

BikeSafe London - Represented!

BikeSafe London – Represented!

Africa unite to end violence against women & girls

Africa unite to end violence against women & girls

The whole show (panoramic photo)

The whole show (panoramic photo)

Harleys formation #2 plus a Yamaha YBR125 at the end

Harleys formation #2 plus a Yamaha YBR125 at the end

Guest rider on the President's police detail

Guest rider on the President’s police detail

The support crew with a mightily impressive trailer... minus one wheel

The support crew with a mightily impressive trailer… minus one wheel

No parking... unless it's a Harley

No parking… unless it’s a Harley

Categories: Malawi, Motorbikes, Volunteering, VSO | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The Long Way to Salima

  1. Amazing.
    And it gets better…
    I saw them filling up with fuel at a gas station near Chipata on Friday!
    They must of been on their way to Lilongwe for the event you went to. My colleagues and I were a little confused as to why to big group of Muzungos on Harley’s were in Chipata… and now I know. Brilliant. If I had known I would have asked them to take a note to you….


  2. Amazing! I was impressed that I’ve been side-saddle on the pillion… you have to go one better and get on the Police bike eh?! Very impressed – and a really interesting way of awareness raising.


  3. Looks great Herman, you must have been happy to be with all those bikes!


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