Thursday, July 7, 2022

Cape to Kapp: My New Definition of "Beauty"


Teresie Hommersand's recently wrapped her "Cape to Kapp" adventure, finishing her ride at the North Cape in Norway. Four years in the saddle, across 25,000 kilometers, through 26 countries. Distance and time are just two of the measures of a journey. Maybe the most memorable parts of any journey are the people you meet along the way and Teresie has made so many friends and have had to rely on the kindness of many many strangers to help her through it.
If you are feeling kind yourself, give a little something to her Stoves That Rock fundraiser that gets efficient, eco-friendly outdoor stoves to families in rural Kenya. Fundraiser ends 7/11/22.
We did not sponsor the Soma Saga frame for her ride, but have been making a donation for each post she writes for us. (All photos copyright Teresie Homersand. Photos on the internet are not automatically public domain)

Too often we are afraid of other people. Not long ago I crossed the finish line at the North Cape in Norway, after having cycled there from the most southern tip of Africa - on my trusty Soma Saga bicycle. Now and en route, I regularly get questions about if I've had any bad experiences on my journey - particularly with people. My ride home took me 4 years and 7 months. Who wouldn't have some negative encounters with people during such a long period of time? HOWEVER, if you consider the way I have traveled, how exposed I have been, how vulnerable, and how many thousands of people I've met, from different countries, different cultures and different religions, the few negative experiences I've had is NOTHING compared to all the POSITIVE ones!

The few negative experiences I've had is NOTHING compared to all the POSITIVE ones!

Before Covid-19 forced me to face my fear of camping alone in nature, I was a bit of a wimp when it comes to it. I wasn't comfortable sleeping alone in nature, even though I knew that in pretty much all cases it is completely fine. But when I heard a sound, and I didn't know what it was, I became alert and often my imagination ran wild with thoughts of someone wanting to do me harm. Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well, and I therefore sought people! So, in the late afternoons, after a day of cycling, and before it got dark, I found a house, knocked on the door and asked if I can put my tent outside in their garden or compound. EVERYBODY has been saying yes! Irrespective of country, culture and religion. Very often they would invite me to join them for dinner, and every time we would sit up until late, talking, learning about each other and the world, connecting, and having the most amazing time ❤️🙏

Menna and her sister and me cycling together in Cairo, Egypt.
She and her amazing family invited me to stay with them for a whole week.
She's also big info promoting cycling for women in Egypt as it's not common,
even discouraged some places.

As in Egypt. I randomly stayed with a family in a tiny village on the banks of the Nile during Ramadan. When I arrived they were about to break the fast and they inviting me to join them. We had the most amazing meal. Eating delicious local and homemade food from a huge tray placed on the floor in the living room. We all gathered around it, eating together with our hands after washing them. Of course. We spent the whole evening laughing and smiling, being curious and interested in each other. Trying to understand what we were saying, me with my limited Arabic, them with their English dictionary. So nice! It was a party! That night I'm pretty sure I slept in one of the sisters' beds. They wouldn't hear of me putting up my tent. 

The next morning I couldn't find my cycle clothing. When I asked it turned out they had taken them and washed them! Then they asked me if I'd like tea before I got back on the bike. I said that that would be very nice. 'Shukran'. I sat and waited for a long time, the cup of tea was taking it's time. I was starting to wonder why. Then when they came, they came with a huge tray of breakfast for me!! They were fasting, yet they gave me food!!!! Accepting and being fine with me not fasting, fine with us not sharing the same religion. Still genuinely caring for me.

More so, in Kenya, a guy that was walking next to the road one day when I was thinking it was time to find a place to stay, invited me to stay with him and his family when I asked where I could put my tent. I followed him through bushes and over a few small hills, on a dirt path. More like a trail. Then we got to what turned out to be a tiny Maasai village. His wife Florence didn't know I was coming until she saw me but welcomed me with open arms and the biggest smile, literally from the first second! 

In the evening we sat around the indoor fire, drinking the best milk tea, eating beans, their curious cousins that came asking me if I like drinking cow blood, my thoughts on communism vs capitalism! We had such a good time that I couldn't say no to their invitation of staying one more day to join the village celebrating two youths passing their exams! Goats were slaughtered, chapatis were made, huuuuge pots were being pulled out to cater for everyone that came. It was a grand celebration! Everyone so beautifully dressed up in their traditional clothing. Me in the only t-shirt and loose pants I had. 

The granny Rose and I had a special connection. She didn't speak a single word of English, me a few words of Swahili, yet we were communicating at a different level! She asked me if I didn't have anything else to wear? No... She leaned over to another granny and then they said 'Come with us'. They dressed me up as a Maasai! My secret dream! Wow! When we returned to the party, everybody turned their heads, saying how beautiful I was! Haha! Speeches, dancing, FOOD! I was so warmly welcomed and included by everybody. At one point I fell asleep in one of the ladies' lap. I registered that someone put a blanket over me. Caring for me. What a day! 

Jeremiah and Florence and me dressed in traditional Maasai wear

In the evening we were all changing back to our everyday clothing, me returning the beautiful necklaces and bracelets. Without a thought I said I felt empty, that something was missing around my neck. Florence went into the neighboring room. She came back with a necklace. 'This is for you'. For me, this was the ultimate symbol of inclusion!!! I cried when we said our goodbyes. We all did. Everybody saying that they wish that I will one day come back. The grandmother. Rose. I don't know who cried the most, me or her. I walked away, pushing my bike, with tears in my eyes.

This is not even the tip of the iceberg of stories I can tell about the people I've met. I feel like I'm stating the obvious, that I shouldn't have to say this, but we're all the same. We have the same needs, the same wants. We all just want to be happy and included, loved. But we so often forget this when constantly being exposed to the news which solely focuses on the sensational and negative and are often taking things out of context and not telling the whole story. Often in society there's also negative perceptions about certain groups of people that feeds into this discourse, creating distance and misunderstandings between us. In the end, it only hurts us, prevents us from profound and beautiful meetings.

Beauty can be defined in several ways, but what I've come to know as THE definition is this; the love between strangers

Beauty can be defined in several ways, but what I've come to know as THE definition is this; the love between strangers. Countless times I've rocked up at someone's home. We don't speak the same language. I look different. Maybe I'm dirty and a little bit stinky after riding on a gravel road the whole day. Yet people take me in. My first winter in Turkey I didn't sleep outside a single night. When I asked to put my tent outside of people's homes they said it's way too cold to sleep outside, and invited me in, preparing a warm bed for me, shower and food! I don't know what this is, this care, this kindness, generosity, warmth and actually love between strangers. Strangers who at a first glance seem very different. But I genuinely cannot think of anything else in this world that is more beautiful than exactly this. I cycled because of our climate and wanting to reduce my carbon footprint, but not only did the said love enrich the experience, my life, to a previously unimaginable level - it also made this journey possible. Without "strangers" love, my heart would not have been full and I would not have been able to cycle 25,000 kilometers. I'm forever grateful and humbled.

Family in Turkey who let me sleep in their home.

 Friends I made in Haifa, Israel, at the annual event
'The Holiday of Holidays'. It's a celebration of the holidays
of the three main religions in the Haifa; Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Hanukkah, Christmas and Eid al-Adha to be exact.
The event is intended to encourage the values of coexistence
and mutual respect of all religions in the city
and celebrate the cultural and religious diversity

A fantastic family in South Africa who took me under their roof
during a very cold winter night in the southern hemisphere

A boy offered me plums when I got to the top of a mountain in Tanzania. 
Such a welcome sight after a tiring climb.