Bicycles are a large part of life in Rwanda. As in much of the rest of Africa, they are not toys for children, but transportation for adults, and for merchandise to and from market. They are a status symbol of sorts, as well, to show a certain level of prosperity or at least success at the job. Like motorcycles, they can be a source of income for those who offer rides to those without bikes. That is a big business in Butare. A bicycle gives one options.
Jean Baptiste came to me a few weeks ago with a need. He has build a house for his family and that is a great blessing, but it is further from town than the house he had been renting and he was finding it difficult to get to work here in town. He was hiring either a motorcycle or a bike to transport him, since it was over 4 miles to walk. This was getting expensive. So he wanted me to help him buy a bicycle. He assured me that he would use it for errands for me as well, so it would help us both. I carefully thought about it. I had not asked him to move further away, but I know that the location of the house was the only property that he could afford. He could have left earlier to walk to work and arrive on time, but that took time away from his family and he works long hours for me. I asked him to get some quotes for bikes and I agreed to help him buy one. He gave me a great sales pitch on why a new bike was a better deal than a used one and the cost difference was not that great (about $25) so I agreed to the new one. He was elated and moved quickly to purchase the cherished transportation. He is thrilled to have the independence that a bicycle provides.
|Josephine and Jean Baptiste with the bikes|
But that created another dilemma for me. I had bought him a bike but Josephine, my faithful house girl, was still walking or paying for a ride. To be fair, I asked her if she needed a bike, too. Of course the answer was yes. So I instructed Jean Baptiste to go with her to assist her in getting the same quality of bike as he had gotten. I gave him the same amount of money for hers. They proudly returned with a bike and change. She said she did not want as “flashy” a bike as he had gotten because hers would be uses mostly in the village. The truth was that she did not know how to ride a bike but would not say no to a gift like a bicycle. She walked the bike home and her family is using it for transportation and marketing and so forth. This small investment on my part has provided a new source of income for the family. It is all a blessing.