Grab a cup of coffee with a lot of sugar cubes, put your feet up and …
Motorcycle Training, African Style … second half
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, not fish. I ask for one quarter portion, they laugh and pile it high.
One hour for dinner and we start our evening 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.
The rest of the story…
Day Two- After one “Long Day Down”, beer trucks start clanking right on time at 6:00 AM as day light volume increases. Basically 12 hour days here, year round, light about 6 and dark about 6. I swing my feet over the edge of the bed and slide them out of the mosquito net encasing it, exposing them to the mosquitoes lurking below the bed. The cement is cool and I take a moment to wake up. The town of Moundou is known as the malaria capital of Chad. I keep the toxic mosquito spray next to the bed, but decide just to get dressed fast and save a few more of my brain cells from sudden death. The older we get the faster they die off naturally. At least, I blame it on that. I am still not convinced it has anything to do with my high sugar intake. A cup of tea requires six cubes of sugar, coffee even more.
Breakfast menu is consistent, bread with mayo and my sweet tea. Every bite is, kind of like, the last bite of an Egg McMuffin, except its cold. Mind you, its been two years since I’ve been to a McDonald’s. I go into the classroom and get set up for the new day. I rearrange the tables and chairs from the movie last night. I make room to drive a motorcycle into the middle. I get yesterday’s flip chart set up for review which will prompt for questions about yesterday’s class. The students start to arrive and I can see they are tired too; maybe 12 hour days are too long…naaaa, they can take it. My kids think they grew up under a drill sergeant; I think I’m just a giant kitty cat.
It’s ten minutes after the hour and 3/4’s of the students are there. Right on time for where we are. I open with a devotion from a book called, “The Cure” . Its a GREAT book about Gods grace! The motorcycle class down in Bamenda, Cameroon loved it. But, I find my translation skills are stretched past the limit and the flicker of understanding in their eyes is extinguishing. I ask the translator to try and read the English printed book and translate it on the fly. It’s looking like he is stretched as well. So, we end the devotion, pray and get started with class. I’ll have to try something else for tomorrow.
First up are questions about yesterdays lesson. There are questions about our lesson on safety. I strongly explained again, how its the motorcyclist who is responsible for staying alive. The cage, er car drivers, just don’t see us. We must do everything we can to get noticed, to be seen. One good help is to use the motorcycle lights. This is highly controversial here. Its just not right to burn the headlamp during the day and many in the class seemed unable to cross that cultural barrier. So I go into my speech about how they, the young people of Chad are the future leaders of Chad. Cultures do change by leadership and example. Be the good leaders your country needs and live the example, stay alive and help others stay alive. I have no idea if it did a bit of good, but I felt better; almost patriotic.
Riding safely is this mornings topic. I have found that drivers who learned to drive on dirt roads where there are no lines or road markings have difficulty understanding the reason for driving in lines or lanes; one person behind the other. It seems so impractical to ask them to ride single file, when the road is wide enough for several cars or ten motorcycles side by side. Some people will drive slow and block the others while others will only drive fast and be yelling and honking. It is normal for walkers and bicycles to stay on the far right, but motorcycles are not excluded from riding there as well. Signaling ones intention is very controversial. When they use the left turn signal, sometimes, its to tell the person behind them that its OK for them, the person behind, to pass the motorcycle on the left side. Flashing the headlamp, will mean, “STOP, I’m coming through”, or it could mean, “its OK, you go first”… We covered what are considered to be the International “normal” driving standards and tried to sift out the cultural confusion. But, then again, here am I, an outsider coming and telling them how they should ride motorcycles in their town. Not easily embraced.
In general I divide the teaching into three main areas: safe and appropriate riding techniques, motorcycle maintenance, and riding practice. The maintenance section was not nearly as controversial. There are wide gaps in their technical knowledge of how to maintain a motorcycle and they understand that. I focused primarily on the three basics, compression, fuel and fire. A motor that burns old dinosaur bones (fossil fuels) requires a cylinder compressing a fuel / air mixture and adding fire to ignite a quick and intense burning of the fuel. That burning creates very high pressure inside the cylinder that forces the piston down, turning the transmission, that turns the chain that turns the rear tire and propels the motorcycle forward. So, there are three basic systems that must be kept operational to keep the motorcycle propelling forward; upper cylinder compression, fuel delivery or carburetor and ignition system. Then we covered some of the luxury systems as well; battery, lights, horn, seat, steering, suspension and brakes.
As for our riding sessions, they were great! We ended up with five to seven bikes to ride, depending on who showed up. All well-used motorcycles. I feel much better about crashing older motorcycles than brand new ones, and crash we must. A side bar, I teach rock climbing as well. (Not in Chad, yet) We always start off with safety first and then get into the practical side of things where we actually climb. In order to climb well, one needs to be able to fall well. We must learn to trust our safety equipment and the people we climb with. If there is an unhealthy fear of falling, one can never climb well. With motorcycles, we must understand, crashes will happen. We must learn all we can about how to avoid crashes and how to minimize damage and injuries when we do crash. In summary, we must know how to crash well and do all we can to avoid it happening. It can get expensive and is deadly.
In the curriculum there are ten driving / riding exercises and variations on each of the ten. The book says to use the little orange safety cones to mark the course. Not really available here. We used maize (corn) stalks. The guys just walked out into the fields and grabbed a couple of dozen. Ideally an area about the size of a soccer field is what we want to practice on. Our area was on the edge of town. It was the community soccer field, weekend market, funeral ceremony location, outdoor wedding location, cattle herd zone, local auto “driving school” zone and the place to hang out after school. We never lacked for an audience. I only wish I had taken photos of the guys weaving through the cattle as the cattle were weaving though our practice zone. We start off with straight line braking. Seems easy enough, except that they don’t use their front brakes for fear of it causing an accident. Some are even disconnected. I taught them that 70% of a motorcycles braking power is via the front brake but they must practice using it. Yes, braking on dirt and gravel can be a challenge, especially when turning. If one does not practice one will not learn. Let the practicing begin!
It didn’t take long for the light in the eyes to come on as they learned first hand how much faster they could stop by using the front brake along with the back. Then the friendly competition starts; they want to see who can stop the quickest. I told them they have to wait, because that is a part of the final exam. I require a lot more practice before then. Turning is where most moving accidents occur. We practice weaving around “our” cones; little “s” turns, big “S” turns, wide turns, tight turns, turns with a stop at the end, turns after a stop, and turns with light braking in the middle. Turns, turns and more turns.
What do they do when an object falls out of the vehicle in front of them? It’s too late to go around it or stop before it, so they must go over it. Practice, practice, practice. Quick thinking drills, like when an object is in their path and they must swerve around it, but both directions are sketchy and they must wait till the last micro second before making a decision. There are circumstances when standing and driving are needed. Such as rough roads, hitting pot holes, having to drive over obstacles, and needing to see better. So we practice standing up while encountering these various obstacles.
The third day is much the same as the second as we continue through the curriculum, except that when we returned from the afternoon practice we found a large box in the classroom. The new motorcycles had arrived…in a cardboard box. This was a first for me. It was about three feet wide by five feet long by two feet high. There were two, yes count them, two motorcycles inside that box; completely disassembled. OK, the motors were assembled and a few sub-assemblies, but in general, it was a “Do it yourself” motorcycle kit. Batteries included!! They said the mechanics from the shop, where they were purchased, would be there the following morning to assemble them.
Bright and early the next morning, beer truck time, they arrived. After dragging the box outside they tore the top off, (looking for the hidden prize inside?) using it as a work base on the dirt and very quickly spread parts all over the place. Being a mechanic, I could see what was happening and where the parts and pieces would be going, but to the uninitiated, it must have looked scary. It wasn’t long before they started looking like real motorcycles. I could see they had done this a time or two before. By late morning, two motorcycles were mostly together. They didn’t look “factory” new with their dents and scratches on the gas tanks, fenders, side panels, well, really everywhere. But they were new and almost together, almost operational motorcycles, and almost ready for obtaining new dents, scratches, etc. Seven more bikes to build up, when they arrive.
Early the next morning, beer truck time, daylight and noises arriving once again. Did you ever think one could write, “early the next morning and beer truck” in the same sentence? Today, the final day of class, after our almost “Egg McMuffin” breakfast, we completed the training syllabus and some more practice time. We completed a review of the week, answered any last questions, then started on our final exam. There was only one item on the exam, a motorcycle practical of “competition braking”. One last trip to the soccer field where I set up the course. A simple straight line with a “Do not brake before mark” at the other end. Everyone not on a motorcycle waited at the finish line to judge where the back tire would stop. One by one, I had hoped, each man was to drive his motorcycle to the “start braking point” and try to stop the quickest. They didn’t quite get the point of waiting until the finish area was clear of other motorcycles before the next one started propelling their dinosaur bone burning motorcycle at a death defying speed down the speedway to the “brake point”. It started looking like a freeway pileup in the fog. Did I really expect anything different when I told them to go fast and stop fast? Yes, to some part of this.
In the end, there was not much real damage and not too much blood shed. There were a lot of laughs, finger pointing and back slapping as they picked each other and the motorcycles up. The whole group was declared the winner. I was actually quite happy. They really had learned a lot in a very short amount of time. In the future, because of what they have learned, the wear and tear on human bodies will be significantly less. There will now be more capacity to get God’s Words further into the remote regions of Chad as these new motorcycles are properly used and maintained by these dedicated translators and literacy workers.
Thanks JAARS, for supplying these motorcycles and training. You are a good team to be a part of. https://www.jaars.org/what/land
Chad Motorcycle trainer for JAARS Land Transportation.
Disclaimer: No JAARS motorcycles were injured during the completion of this course. They weren’t even ridden in the course!! (probably a good thing)