BikeAbout in the News

From Chalkface, A Moroccan Journal of English Language Teaching, Chalkface 5 – 1998. Reproduced with their permission.

Cultural Bike-About

On their visit to CESAM, Berkane in October 1997, P. Kennedy, E. Gelber and A. Ziehmke were interviewed by N. Bachiri & M. Allal

Q: Thank you very much Ethan, Padraic and Anthony for wanting to contribute this interview to our journal. How about starting with introductions?

Padraic: My name is Padraic Kennedy. I am a professor of European history. I received my degree from Washington University in St. Louis. I am currently a participant in the Bike-About program.

Ethan: My name is Ethan Gelber. I am a writer and a teacher. I am the director of Bike-About. Bike-About is a group of five people who are making a full trip around the Mediterranean Sea meeting people and students, associations and organazations [sic], talking about culture, education, the environment, the Internet, anything that is important to people as they exchange ideas around the world.

Anthony: My name is Anthony Zemki [sic] and I have been working lately as a bicycle tour guide in Europe. Now I am a member of Bike-About traveling around the Mediterranean. I am very interested in culture, cultural identity and the the elements of a society that make culture and I am looking forward to visiting many different cultures.

Q: As I understand it your institution is mobile. It has no office, no premises. Is it the case that your only institution is your bikes?

Ethan: I have been working for the past two years in my apartment in New York to put this all together, so if there is a home then it is my home in New York, but that home is right now just a big pile of papers. Now, it is five of us on bicycles carrying the materials that we need so that we can communicate around the world, carrying as little paper as possible, using our brains to think, our legs and our bicycles to move, our eyes to seem ears to hear, and noses to smell; everything that makes living and sharing part of what the world and life should be.

Anthony: Now our offices are our bikes. We have five bikes and two trailers which we use to carry the computers, first-aid kits and spare parts, so yes we are very mobile. We don't have anything else. There is no support vehicle, we don't have people mailing us things, we are self-contained and mobile.

Padraic: People ask us where our home is. We now say our home is here, wherever we are.

Q: How did this wonderful idea first come to you?

Ethan: The story is I was sharing with friends — one evening in a Mexican restaurant in New York City — dreams that we have, things like traveling around the world on a boat or climbing Mt. Everest. One friend said, "I would really like to bicycle around the Mediterranean Sea," and everybody laughed at how silly that was. The idea stuck in my mind as a fascinating and incredible idea, because it is three continents and all of the major western religions and hundreds of cultures and languages. It is the cradle of Western civilization. All of the ideas that we have in Europe, North Africa and West Africa and of course in America come from the Mediterranean. I could not get the idea out of my mind. I had been working with Anthony and Padraic leading bicycle tours and had been working as a teacher. I have training in cultural communications and cross-cultural communication. The Bike-About idea seemed to bring all these together. I began to ask questions and started working, and two years later, here we are.

Q: Congratulations. Why exactly bicycles and not motor bikes or maybe mules? (Anthony, Padraic, Ethan: profuse laughter)

Anthony: One of the things that we have noticed during bicycle touring is that you notice things much differently from a bike than you do from a car or a plane. It is slower, you can stop more easily. You can get a better sense of what people are like and what an area is like and what it is like to live there because you see people in a much closer sense in a much slower sense and a much more personal sense. And also there is a lot of technology that we are carrying and part of our goal is to show people that however intimidating technology is, it is something that you can carry on a bike, it is something that you can learn to use and it is something that you can make a part of your life. It is not as imposing as it might seem.

Padraic: Another point is that all three of us enjoy cycling and we couldn't think of a better way to do it. If you are going to travel around the Mediterranean why not do it in the best way possible, by bicycle.

Anthony: If it was by car, motorcycle or bus we probably wouldn't be doing it. The fact that it was by bicycle was something that grabbed our interest and we took off with it.

Q: For sure there is a lot of joy in biking around the Mediterranean, but there must be some risks as well. Could you tell us about the other side of the coin?

Ethan: There are difficulties certainly. At times it is not the most convenient mode of transportation. There were difficulties in reaching Morocco with the bicycles. It was very frustrating to arrive here with our bicycles and I fear it will be very frustrating to leave Morocco and go to Tunisia with our bicycles; because of the trains and the boats, we have to pack the bicycles and then unpack them again. On the road actually a bicycle gives you a kind of freedom you might not otherwise have. Of course, the constraint is the pace: we cannot go very quickly, we cannot ride 200 kms in one day. So we have to pace ourselves much differently. That is the biggest incisiveness while on the road.

Padraic: Plus, when it rains, you get wet.

Ethan: And when it is sunny you get sunburned.

Padraic: And when drivers are not careful you have to be more careful. We went right through the Rif Mountains and there are some very narrow roads and some very fast bus drivers and you just have to be extra careful.

Q: One might wonder why for God's sake a group of people should ride their bikes around the Mediterranean despite so many difficulties.

Padraic: Because it is beautiful.

Ethan: Because of the people you meet that you wouldn't — if you were traveling — meet by any other mode of transportation; because the visions you see that you wouldn't see, because you actually feel the earth. When you climb a mountain in a bus you only smell the petrol that the bus gives off. When you bicycle up a mountain and it takes an hour and a half to go eight kilometers because the road is at an angle that makes you suffer, you really feel the mountains and you know what the mountains are about. When you get over it you feel the triumph of having gone over that mountain. So you feel every inch of the earth that you have crossed. Plus there is an important environmental aspect. Bicycles are entirely environmentally sound, no gas, no rubber streaks on the road, no extra pieces. You go from one place to another and you have left absolutely nothing behind, good or bad; except impressions that are good, hopefully.

Q: Apart from your bikes and your senses, what other equipment do you use to get information about what you see, hear and feel?

Anthony: We are really carrying very little. For our work we basically have our laptops, digital cameras and we have a video camera. So we can send video back to the United States to be put on our Internet site. Other than that we carry very little paper. [The trip] is not about producing paper, it is about producing knowledge. The more we can produce knowledge without producing paper, the better it is environmentally. We have, as we said, tool kits, spare parts, clothing; but other than that we are carrying very little. It seems like a lot when you are going up a mountain.

Q: Are there any females in your team?

Ethan: We have two women with us, Corin [sic] Whitney, who is American, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Andrea Siegel who is from southeast Austria. They are right now in Saidia waiting for us. Corin is in charge of the moving video element. She has a digital video camera that takes pictures, moving pictures, not just still pictures. We hope to make a documentary and have some short clips that can appear on the website. Andrea is the artist. She sees the world in a way unlike the way we see it, through her camera lens, through the way she interacts with it.

Q: One final question: is there a message you want to convey through this experience, particularly to the Moroccan youth?

Ethan: It is our basic belief that the more people know about one another the less they are inclined to want to be in conflict with one another. Communication is the avenue through which learning peace and learning understanding and learning proper treatment of one another and of the world and the environment is communicated. that is what we are trying to do by making contacts, bridging communication between associations and between students, between teachers and people in general. The message I would want to give to Moroccan people is: continue to be as open as you are, to be hospitable as you are, and try now to use the tools that are so close here in Berkane. The internet is a tool for communication with near neighbors, Spain and France, Algeria, Tunisia or Italy, other neighbors farther away in the Mediterranean and other neighbors even farther away in the United States, who want to know about you.

Padraic: I would stress the importance of understanding and communication between cultures. One thing that we hope to do is unite the Mediterranean, in a very small sense, of course. If we can get people in Morocco speaking with people in Tunisia, speaking to people in Spain, Turkey, Albania, or from anywhere, that is what we want to try to do. We believe that will make the Mediterranean a more peaceful place.

Anthony: I think that I would add to that part of the message we have for the Moroccan students is similar to the message we would present to students in the United States: as different as cultures are amongst the Mediterranean and between the Mediterranean and North America, they are very similar. There are very many differences, but in the end there are so many similarities that once you understand a culture you realize that people are not so different as they are similar.

The following question also appeared in The Student's Digest, the Annual English Magazine of High School Students, volume 6, 1998:

Q: Would you like people to be bikers like you?

Padraic: The more people use bicycles, the less pollution there will be in cities, the more human interactions can become, the more physically fit individuals will be, the more knowledge people will have about the local environment they live in and the international environment that they are becoming part of.

Ethan: Sure, let's not forget that some places are very very far away. Cars, trains, planes and boats do play some important role in creating the world that can communicate.

Padraic: Our world is becoming smaller, but it is not yet that small.

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