Motorcycle Training, African Style

It’s been a good week in Moundou, Chad, where all the streets are dirt, all the children are dusty, and they love couscous with fish bone sauce. This week in Moundou we held the first ever motorcycle safety, skills and maintenance training course. JAARS Inc, a part of SIL, donates motorcycles to National Bible Translation organizations for the translators and literacy workers to get about, a whole lot easier than on bicycles and walking. One condition for the getting the motorcycles is to take the course. This is where we begin… We had twelve students, one instructor, me, and a supporting cast of three. It went off without a hitch, almost, an absolutely astounding production. I’m sure we’ll see outstanding reviews in the end of class survey questionnaire one it gets translated into English.

My adventure started, Thursday evening, Dec 5, as I prepared my materials for this class. I am very fortunate that I live the material. It’s makes my preparation easy. My whole life I have been fixing and riding motorcycles or something close. I’ve gone to many schools and training programs and now it’s my turn to give back for all the fun and goodness I have received. I find I really enjoy teaching something I am intimately familiar with. It’s just down right fun.

I got on the bus for my eight hour ride to Moundou, Monday morning about seven. As the bus driver was collecting tickets, he stopped and starred at mine, then me, then handed my ticket to someone out the window. He said something to me, but I couldn’t understand him, even on the fourth try. Then one of the other passengers said, you’re on the wrong bus. But don’t get off. He’s fixing it. I asked again if this was the bus to Moundou. Yes, was the reply, but not your bus to Moundou. Your ticket was for the big comfortable bus. It costs more, so he is getting your change for riding on the small more exciting bus. Well the trip was long, but the excitement must have been on the other bus. This one was… just a bus ride through the African country side. The only animals I saw were goats, chickens and a few cows. There were lots of people wanting to sell me stuff through the window each time we stopped. Sugar cane season! Lots of sugar cane, nine, one foot long sticks in a bundle for $2.00, or a $1.50 if I bargained. Or I could get some Raz Ban sun glasses for a buck,  or an Ostrich feather fan. The water melon looked tempting, but, I didn’t want to carry it around with me. I didn’t buy anything. I must be such a disappointment to Africa.

We arrived in Moundou in eight hours, which is really good for African time. My ride was waiting for me and we did the $0.10 tour of town on our way to ATALTRAB where the training will take place. It’s dusty right now and there is a lot of road work in process. This is good progress. Good roads lead the way to good economic health and this country needs some economic health. It’s a nice facility in a sort of residential area, right across the street/alley/path from a residential brewery depot. Trucks would park in the path/alley all day and into the night; loading and unloading products by hand; dropping, clicking, scraping, banging; making a generally chaotic noise. But, it stopped about ten and starting again at six in the morning.

My first meal there was…. drum roll please, yes, African couscous with fish bone sauce and just the right amount of sand. Kind of like scraping fingernails across a chalk board for me. They gave me their best and I never fault anyone for trying.  I’m just a simple McDonalds hamburger kind of guy. Never been one for exotic foods. And why are you in Africa you may ask? Didn’t come for the food!

I was tired and I was able to get a shower and get to bed at 6:30 pm. Wonderful, I think. This is when I find out about the beer trucks just outside my bedroom window. Yes unloading until 10pm and conveniently waking me up right about 6 am. They are providing my food and lodging right along side the student’s. I have my own dorm room with… indoor toilet, sink and shower. I’m feeling rather ” kingly” here. Judy wonderfully placed in my baggage a box of my favorite breakfast cereal. It’s the kind you can eat raw, no milk necessary. Oh, how I love my wife. So, after three handfuls of cereal; I went to breakfast. It was a tray of baguettes, (bread) with a jar of mayonnaise to slather on the bread.  (New idea to me) Then another tray with all the fixings for hot tea or coffee. It looked good, I can eat this and enjoy it. It’s like an egg McMuffin, without anything, except mayonnaise. Four to six lumps of sugar in a cup of tea is normal in Chad! I like this place.

Breakfast over and I’m off to class to get it set up. We have a great auditorium made from concrete block, good roof, electric lights and ceiling fans; when there’s electricity. I get a chalk board made from plywood painted black, a paper flip chart with a box of colored markers to draw on, a podium and table for all my stuff. Great set up. I am content. The students arrive, twelve of them. They get tables and chairs set up in a U with pre-made name markers. Somebody was thinking ahead.

Up to this point, I do not know if this class will be in French or English with French translation. Incomplete communication! I see the photo copies made for the class are all in French. No English to be seen. I’m getting a clue, but not being the sharpest spoon in the drawer I start speaking in English. My appointed translator gives me a deer in the headlight stare. I ask if the class is understanding my English, I get a class full of deer’s, starring at me. In the near distance I hear a lone cricket chirping. I’m getting more clues. I dive into my French and amazingly I start to see lights flickering in eyes all around me. At last I am communicating. It reminds me of the Tom Hanks movie, where he is stuck on the island and finally gets a fire going. “I MADE COMMUNICATION”. Now, I’m not fluent, to put it mildly, but here I am at the beginning of a week of classes where “I” will be teaching in French. I wouldn’t have ever thought it possible.

My biggest hurdle yet is that most, yes I mean most, all of my material is in English.  Thankfully, the night before I left, I did remember to send my contact in Moundou a French version of a training manual that was found on the Internet by one of my USA based co-workers. (I love you Ken)  That became the new foundation of the week’s training.  Actually, once I got going, I found I could translate on the fly. I think this is all a God thing as I’m certainly no “Frenchie”.  I was communicating, I was happy, and so were they.

The critical absentees in the program were the nine new motorcycles we were suppose to be training on. This was one of those “never a dull moment times”. When I asked about this I was told they were in transport from, of all places, Ndjamena, Chad and will be here soon. So at this point we had four, well used motorcycles to work with until the new ones arrived. It’s fine, we’ll make it work just fine. (I hope)

My first session is about safety. I introduce a lot of new concepts here. I’m constantly pushing the culture barriers, the norms of society in this area. I talk about all the safety equipment, helmet, gloves, closed toe shoes, body armor, etc. They ask, “Where are we suppose to get this kind of stuff? The helmets we buy here crack when you drop them, none of the other equipment is ever seen here.” I tell them, you have tailors and the Internet for the pictures so they can make it. The helmets are a problem…

I have laminated photo hand outs I pass out showing motorcycle accidents. The kinds we got to see in high school “Drivers Ed” class. Yes, I’m trying to scare them, it worked for me. I found some great photo charts showing things that seem real, but on second look, you see it can’t be real. Optical illusions to show how motorcyclists are virtually invisible to other motorists. Even when a motorcyclist thinks he has eye contact and an approving nod, it’s not real. For the vast amount of time, cage drivers, err, I mean car drivers simply do not see motorcycles. After a car runs over a motorcycle, most drivers will say, “I never saw them”. It’s true, they didn’t, but they still ran over the motorcycle. It’s the motorcyclist responsibility to do what needs to be done to stay alive. I tell them they are the secret agent spy everyone wants to kill, but they must stay alive. This goes on for several hours, then exhausted, confused and dazed, we all go take a break and eat more bread with mayonnaise and really sweet tea.

Next session starts, “introduction to your new motorcycles”, which by the way, aren’t here yet. So we drag in a good old beat up motorcycle and introduce all the parts and pieces.  I blindfold the class rider who has been riding the longest to show how knowing where everything is really does become second nature. Most of the time it works, it did this time. It wasn’t even his bike, but with experience and common sense, he was successful. I have each of the newbies sit up on the bike and find all the parts, starting to get a feel for a motorcycle. It’s critical to keep one’s eyes on the road and surroundings and not be looking for levers, buttons, knobs, etc.

12:30, not nearly as exhausted we go to lunch… I can’t wait… It’s the number one Chad special, couscous with fish bone sauce. Oh my, how many meals to go? I ask for a half portion, it’s still four times more than I could eat even if I was near starvation. I sit with the guys and listen to them crunching the fish bones like candy. I think of my mother telling me to be careful of fish bones; if they get stuck in your throat you will die a slow and agonizing death. I look at the dog, looking at me. No, I decide, and slowly pick out each and every bone, which greatly helps reduce the volume of food I actually get to consume. Thank you mother!

At their request we take a two hour lunch and no afternoon break. Works for me, I have come to like naps. At 2:30 we meet for the first riding practice. Two of the guys have never been on a bike before this morning’s introduction. So, they mount up with an experienced rider walking on each side who push and allow them to get the feel of a moving bike. They operate the brakes, and my experienced riders are getting tired and change with a fresh crew. The new pushers are not as patient with the using brakes thing and ask about starting the engine. Balance is OK, so yes, start the engine, but DO NOT put it in gear. Just operate the throttle, clutch and brakes with out hitting anything or anybody and staying up right. Push, push, push. I’m about out of experienced pushers so it’s time to put it into first gear. But hang on tight in case he closes the throttle the wrong way. A few wild wheelies later, they are starting to get the idea that slowly rolling the throttle forward makes it go slow and rolling the throttle backwards makes it go fast. PROGRESS!  By the end of the afternoon  everyone is riding figure eights in first gear. No crashes, no accidents, no injuries. A great day of class, now it’s off to… dinner. It’s rice and meat bone sauce, but not fish. I ask for one quarter portion, they laugh and pile it high.

One hour for dinner and we start our final session. A two hour portion of the six hour video, “Long Way Down”. A great motorcycle travel log in Africa. We wrap up at 8 pm. One long day, three more to go.

To Be Continued…

Author: jimjudywycliffejourney

Jim and Judy have been with Wycliffe since 1984. They have served in aviation maintenance/management, motorcycle, and 4X4 training, recruitment, and facilities maintenance in multiple locations in the US and Africa. They currently work with America's Area, North Region, Scripture Access services team. They are a mobile USA team using the internet and face to face encounters with churches, ministries, Native American communities, Diaspora communities, refugee aid organizations, and individuals, introducing them to Through this website, those who did not grow up speaking English can access the Bible and other Scripture resources in the language they understand best. Would you consider becoming a part of their Wycliffe ministry partnership team? You can join their prayer or financial team by clicking on

2 thoughts on “Motorcycle Training, African Style”

  1. Inspiring account-it affected me, to wit: once I read the word 'beer”, I decided to drink one before I went to bed to wash down the Bailey's I just had. Thanks! C U in Hawaii one of these days.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s