GUEST POST – ’88 BIKES’ with LYNSEY DYER
Is it really possible to offer someone else happiness? I came to India to find out. And though I’ve found myself overwhelmingly disgusted at times puking my brains out, the idea of sharing happiness has not only inspired an adventure but shown me that happiness indeed is meant to be shared! It’s been the something I recognised in Dan Austin and his organisation and Jonno Durrant and his films that brought unlikely strangers together for an adventure of a lifetime that began about a week ago half way around the world…
Happiness and inspiration is what I took away from my first talk with Dan Austin and also my first interaction with Stefan and Jonno on the same day in Telluride at Mountainfilm where some two years later, lead me to be sitting in a tiny internet hole in the wall to tell you all about it.
I met Dan Austin, founder of 88 Bikes at my art show where we began talking about his non-profit 88 Bikes. I was instantly lit up by the fact that this organisation did not feed off the doom and gloom of what tragedies lay out in the world. It did not force a sense of guilt on would be donors for living a more fortunate life but was spawned from something else, the desire to share happiness. Since I’ve spent most of my professional(if you can call if that) life making a life out of play(skiing) and proving to others they can play too, the idea of sharing happiness with kids especially those who might have been forced to grow up too early was a perfect fit. I made a decision that day to go to those places and do the work myself, but when I didn’t know.
That also happened to be the day I met Jonno and Stefan from Surfing 50 States. These guys embodied the epitome of “play” and you couldn’t help but laugh, either at them or with them so when they told me of their plans to surf the 28 Indian States, and combine it with philanthropic activities I found it the perfect combination and got to work planning our trip to “Surf 88 Bikes in India.”
Two days of traveling landed us in Allahabad, wayyyy off the beaten path for westerners and directly into negotiations exchanging $3000 donated American dollars into Indian rupees and then wheeling and dealing with local bike shop owners for the best deal on the mother load of bike orders. It was dusty and hot and pollution was everywhere, in every form on all levels. Horns consistently blowing, fumes from the constant flow of traffic, and garbage lined the streets but it was the smell that was the most overwhelming. Muggy temperatures plus overflowing garbage mixed with faeces from roaming cows, dogs, and humans who fed on the garbage turned my Roos into “poo roos” very quickly as it became virtually impossible not to step in the various treats left by all mammals squatting in the trees and gutters along the way.
Yes, this was just the beginning of Lynsey’s weightless program of 2010 that I didn’t know I signed up for until it was too late but that’s beside the point.
I was there on behalf of 88 Bikes, an organisation working to bring children in developing countries bikes as a direct means of empowerment and I was already overwhelmed. Three days of negotiation later we had agreed on a suitable price and begged the owner to deliver the bikes when he said he would instead of the normal India time, which equals three times longer than “American time.”
“I will do my level best” he kept saying, and on the morning we arrived at the boys ashram 34 shiny bikes ranging in sizes from training wheels to grown up lay glistening in waiting, and so did the boys!
As we watched them sing a few welcome songs I couldn’t help but tear up knowing these weren’t average boys I was used to teaching how to ski, these boys, some with heavy scars or deformed limbs were rescued slaves. I couldn’t imagine what they’d gone through at such young ages but it showed on some of their faces as they glanced back at us, old men in boys bodies, their eyes too wise to be those of children. Freed from the loom factories and stone quarries, they now looked like shiny young students led by a strong motherly nun who’s deep love for each of what she called “her children” shown clearly when she’d shield her eyes later as the boys rode past.
From there we began the process of meeting each individual boy, presenting him with a bike and asking him what he wanted to be when he grew up. We got a lot of teacher, tailor, bike repair and police answers as well as the occasional lawyer and doctor but the highlight was the next part. I witnessed for myself what Dan had called “the moment of happy” when a boy first gets on a bike, perhaps for the first time in his life and is lit up with joy. My most proud moment came running behind one in particular, his training wheels barely skimming the cobblestone rock, instantly aware that I was a part of this child’s first experience riding a bike. Remembering the freedom of my own first experience, with my grandfather running behind me, powered for the first time by my own means, not relying on the grownups, feeling wind on my face as if I could do anything. That was a feeling worth sharing and humbled me as I spent the afternoon sweating in delight running behind child after child; jumping up and down watching each one glowing in the delight of finding a bit of personal freedom in what would come to be a most spectacular day in all our lives and a brighter future for everyone involved.
In speaking with the local NGO, Free the slaves, the organisation who funds the Ashram itself, these bikes are the most tangible means of direct empowerment they’ve seen and are overwhelmingly grateful to 88 Bikes. Each boy will be reintroduced to his former community after 6 months of rehabilitation with trade skills and literacy levels enough to get a good job and to educate others on the dangers of slavery, something 27 million people suffer from every day. Equivalent to a Ferrari to a western boy, these bikes meant much more than a means to play on but a means of transport, sometimes for an entire family, a way to get to work, even a means of making money like rickshaw drivers made famous by those in India.
Luckily I didn’t start throwing up, among other things, until the next day, stuck in a tiny flea and mice infested hotel room asking myself over and over why I had come half way around the world but two days and two Ciparo tablets later with only a mild tummy ache looking back it truly has been the experience of a lifetime and a moment of happiness I have come to find out for is a moment one cannot give away without experiencing personally.
Wishing happiness your way,
* The Surfing 28 States crew cant thank Lynsey enough for her time with us here in India. She is an amazing individual and we feel honoured to be working with her and 88 Bikes. Her adventures can be followed at www.lynseydyer.com