Pasta Salad to Pikilily — Making Riding Safer for Tanzanians

 Image: Claire Elsdon  | Sudan

Image: Claire Elsdon  | Sudan

In 2012, Claire Elsdon, who was a stockbroker for 8 years in London, England, went on a solo motorcycle adventure from London to Capetown. While in Africa she saw how the communities were lacking in motorcycle maintenance skills, which were needed for vital services. In a bold move, Claire moved to Mwanza, Tanzania in 2016 to set up Africa’s First Women’s Motorcycle Maintenance Workshop, called Pikilily. Here she has helped groups such as midwives learn the skills they need that make the difference in the projects being a lasting success.


 Image: Claire Elsdon | Pikilily | Women's motorcycle ambulance group

Image: Claire Elsdon | Pikilily | Women's motorcycle ambulance group

The Helping Hand — Graham Field, motorcycle adventure travel author and co-host on ARR RAW is in Tanzania helping out Claire with Pikilily. He shares what he’s been up to at the motorcycle shop.



Interviewer: Jim Martin | Guests: Claire Elsdon/Graham Field | Photos: Claire Elsdon

This transcript has been created from the original audio episode released March 1, 2018. This transcript may have been modified to make reading easier. As Adventure Rider Radio shows are meant to be listened to and not read, the following script may contain some grammatical and other errors. You can also listen to this interview by downloading the episode.


Jim (Narrate): In Claire Elsdon’s mind, she had no other option. She had to get a motorcycle if she was ever to avoid the pasta salad eating marathoner that each morning she was forced to sit with on her way to work.

Claire: The smell. It’s just so horrible. I thought, I can't do it anymore. Either I'm going to stab her to death, or I need to find another option.

Jim (Narrate): Well, you're just going to have to listen to this episode to really fully understand that one. But anyway- with her new motorcycle, she rode the deserted early morning streets of London, and soon began to imagine where else her bike could take her. And it wasn't long before she was taking a break from her 12 hour days, working as a London stockbroker, for a true African adventure. Solo by motorcycle, London to Cape Town. That ride, and something her grandmother said to her…

Claire: “…I wish when I was your age, I’d done the things that I’d wanted to do, not the things other people expected me to do. I wish that I'd been braver….”

Jim (Narrate): That was the catalyst for a new career and life in Tanzania, Africa. I'm Jim Martin, this is Adventure Rider Radio. Stay with us. We've got a good one for you.


Jim (Narrate): Well, as you heard in the intro, Claire Elsdon’s story begins (at least for us) riding to work with pasta salad…and ends with her running a social enterprise in Tanzania, designed to improve safety in motorcycling for locals, while at the same time giving those locals (or other locals) jobs. In between, she rides from London to Cape Town, solo on her motorcycle. So much going on. So first, we're going to meet Claire, and then we're going to talk with Graham Field, because Graham is in Tanzania volunteering for Pikilily because they need volunteers to help with…Wait a second. I'm getting way ahead of myself. Let's begin with Claire.

Claire: So what do I do. This is quite a complicated one. Well, I run Pikilily. So my name is Claire Elsdon. I'm from the UK, from England, and I run Pikilily, which is Africa's first women's motorcycle maintenance workshop. We also do all kinds of other things around keeping people in Africa safe on their motorcycles.

Jim: Claire, welcome to Adventure Rider Radio.

Claire: Thank you, I’ve been very excited to be with you today.

Jim: I thought you were a stockbroker.

Claire: Yes. Once upon a time, Jim, I really was. For seven or eight years. But that seems like quite a long time ago now.

Jim: Your story starts out as you being a stockbroker, and then deciding to go on a motorcycle trip (we're going to talk about that)…But I'm really sort of curious…to become a stockbroker…That's not something…Well, it's not a job that you would go into with no training, is it?

Claire: You know, this is remarkable. I had this conversation exactly today; because my degree was not in economics or maths or statistics or anything, or finance even…it was in classics and German. So I spent a year in Germany studying Latin and Greek, and I spent three years in the UK doing that. I had no prior background to finance at all. In fact, embarrassingly before I started that job, I didn't even know the trading floors still existed. I mean, I was totally ignorant. But it is actually a job [that] you have to learn on the job. There's a degree of theory, and obviously there's regulations and that's really important, but the art of…it's really a sales job, but you need to understand what moves markets. You just learn on the job. So, it's quite weird in that way.

Jim: How long did you do it for?

Claire: Initially, I did it for seven years, and then I took the year and a bit out to do my trip. And then I did it for another year and a half, and then I quit. So in total, it was kind of getting on 9-10 years. Yeah.

Jim: So why all of a sudden does it become something you don't want to do? I mean, it sounds like a dream job. For many people, they’d listen to this and go, man- I would love to have that job. You’ve got to be making lots of money, and the excitement.

Claire: You know, I totally get all of that. There were days when I would be at work on a really fulfilling interesting day. And by fulfilling I mean I guess that I suddenly felt like I understood an element to how our business worked, or I’ve made a really good call on buying a share ahead of huge 20 percent surge in the share price over a period of months or something, that was a really great day- or when I felt like I'd really added value for a client. But the problem for me was, with this job…I mean- absolutely. I was so lucky because I got to have a front row seat on, not only understanding how a whole range of industries worked by asking the people involved…it was the leaders in those fields…but also to an extent I got a front row seat on the financial crash. There was nothing more frightening than being on the trading floor of Merrill Lynch when Lehman went down. Our own share price [was] cratering 30 per cent a day. We were doing fantastic commissions because everyone was just dumping shares. But at the same time our clients were saying to us- you might be bust by Monday, so we actually can't trade with you anymore. It was really perverse. So in a way, a wonderful life experience. But at the same time, for me personally, I've never been motivated by money. So in terms of ultimately where I found purpose… in my role, I was just an agent really, a salesperson is more or less an agent. So at a certain point, if you boil it down…yeah- it's important that pension funds make good returns because we're all (most of us I guess) have paid into a pension, and we need to think about our retirement. But ultimately I kind of felt like, I'm not sure that I'm really delivering the best value to these people. Do I really deserve what I get paid? If I went home tomorrow, and did something else, am I really replaceable? Probably, yes. At a certain point I felt like, what am I contributing to the world here that really means something, or really really helps somebody, or really gives value to someone in some way? I guess I just felt like, I'm not sure this is it, really. So that's kind of how I decided, you know, what I think I need is [to] take a step out for a while (maybe on two wheels), and try something different.

Jim: I can relate to just about everything you've said there, except that first question when you said you asked yourself, do I really deserve what I'm getting paid? Who asks that question? Who goes to their employer and says; hang on, you know what? I think we’re overdoing this. You're going to have to cut me back twenty percent, I'm just feeling, you know, I'm not worth this money.

Claire: Well, I know what you mean. But certainly in the UK, people in my previous position are paid more than friends of mine who are doctors, nurses, [even] teachers in some really tough schools. And I couldn’t…I think for me, I don't know whether I'm overly moralistic I don't know, but I don’t think so. I just thought, do I really deserve to be getting paid at times multiples of what these people are? And they're really the coalface, and they really are shaping young lives, and saving lives, and all these things…and really, does this…I didn't know, I just wasn't comfortable with it. I think at a certain point for most people, you have to look- to be able to look yourself in the eye and say, yeah this all makes sense. My life feels balanced. I feel like I'm contributing. I have a purpose, whether it's through your job or some other way. It doesn't have to be your job. And of course, I understand for people with a lot of kids, they've got a lot of commitments, and they do need a certain income- fine. I'm not making a judgment about anybody. But I knew for me the balance was off. It really felt off. So. I think it comes [to] a point where you're getting a pay rise, and it's not even exciting anymore because the thing that you really want is, not more money, but more time. Whether it's to explore, or to grow, or to see more of the world, and understand more of the world. That became what it was for me, so. Not to feel perpetually exhausted, and stressed- that was a big deal as well.

Jim: So where do two wheels come in for you, like in your life? Is that something you started…you know, was the your first vehicle?

Claire: No, not at all. You know, I was never really…I know this is almost sacrilegious to say but, I was never really that interested in motorbikes, really. I don’t come from a biking family at all. There was no motor biking influences at all. But it changed when I started my first job actually, because like I said, I had to be in work for 6:30 in the morning. My first job was in Canary Wharf, which is way out the east side of London. And I was renting a room way out on the west side. So I was having to get on the tube (the underground) at twenty past 5:00 in the morning. Swap tubes three times. And the thing that really did it for me- it wasn't so much the spending the best part of an hour on the tube and all the swaps and the cold mornings and everything- it was the fact that there was a girl who was always on the same tube. I think she was training for the marathon and she always used to crack open this Tupperware pot of pasta salad- chicken pasta salad. She was always in my carriage, and the smell…Pasta salad was just so horrible. I thought, I can't do this anymore. Either I'm going to stab her to death, or I need to find another option. So. All my colleagues use to ride motorbikes to work because it was just convenient. And you know what? My commute, which was becoming a real irritation factor, became a complete joy overnight the minute I got my bike license. I had the embankment the whole streets of London to myself at 5:30 in the morning, it was the most fun. I just felt so free…and yeah. So that's how it started. It was just commuting. And then I had a really wonderful colleague who introduced me to off-roading. Then I just started thinking about…well I hadn't heard of HUBB or ARR or anything at this point. The whole world of overlanding was not something I was even vaguely aware of. But I just started getting into…You know, I think it was the Long Way Round, Long Way Down thing that, for me, was very much my introduction to- oh, you can really travel on a motorbike. Then my whole world exploded. And that's when I started getting ideas about bigger things, I think.

Jim: I have to say; you're the first person I've ever spoke with that started riding motorcycles because they wanted to avoid stabbing a chicken pasta salad eating marathon runner to death on a tube. (By the way, for Americans, the tube is the subway- in case you're wondering what she’s riding in the morning.) But yeah, that's a unique entrance into motorcycling, I have to say. You mentioned Long Way Round, Long Way Down [and] that sort of inspiring you- is this while you were still working as a stockbroker, you're watching these movies?

Claire: Yes, yes, yeah. I used to come home exhausted, eat my dinner, and watch one of those DVDs. And it was sad because that's literally all I knew. So I would watch these two videos back to back relentlessly for goodness knows how many months on end. I mean deeply sad- in the vain hope that somehow if I kept watching it, it would become real. Of course it never would. At one point I think the DVD became so worn out it actually stopped working. At that point I realized- you know, this is really sad because, no offence, I mean- I know people have really strong opinions about both those shows, especially Long Way Down, whatever. Regardless. Still, it was my opening into a whole different world. But I did realize- you know what? You probably at a certain point need to either move on with your life, or do something about this for yourself. Because of course, watching a DVD doesn't make it real. So that was a big thing. Yeah. Certainly for me.

Jim: When you're now sort of getting, I guess somewhat dissatisfied at work or at least considering other options, how do you come up with the idea of going [and] riding a motorcycle? Because that's not a career change. That's not something you're [doing] obviously…You're [not] going to go and do that for the rest of your life. That's a vacation.

Claire: Yeah absolutely. I think for me it was thinking…because I used to have these fantasies of riding to work. But instead of actually riding to Canary Wharf, I’d just take a few right left turns and then go to Dover. Just kind of to follow the road, and have an adventure, and that freedom. I was yearning for it. So for me, I just thought I would love just to be able to take maybe a year and just to leave all that finance stuff behind. Just be totally open to other people, other places, and explore. Try to understand a little bit better how other people live, and how other people…what their existence is like. Because, I felt like mine had become really myopic. So it was initially absolutely just…can I just press pause on this existence that I have to see something completely different? Become immersed in it, really. I did think [that] even though it was a vacation, I did think/I was so aware that, especially travelling alone, I’d probably get into a few scrapes here and there. And, inevitably however much I might try and be responsible for myself, almost certainly strangers would probably end up helping me, and showing generosity in that way. So I thought, well with that in mind, what can I do along the way to give something back in some way? Maybe a project, or maybe a…who knows, something. That's how I came up with this idea of- well, okay- finance. I have a finance background. Micro-finance is something I think can often be offered. [It’s] usually really good, and much needed. So maybe I could do some work with a micro-finance organization along the way, and give back in that respect. So there was a little bit of an element of trying to do something good for someone else apart from just me. But yeah- ultimately it was meant to be a holiday.

Jim: So you head off on this trip that you- this vacation really, at this point [it’s] a holiday- you're going by yourself, right? So you're heading off to Africa by yourself on your first adventure.

Claire: That's right.

Jim: That's a big step.

Claire: It is. I mean, not least because I've never even ridden on the other side of the road before, and I hadn't even…so I hadn’t even been to France. You know like, on a weeklong trip or something. I’d been to Mongolia, on a guided trip though, for ten days. Which was brilliant, but I didn't really have any responsibility for anything, apart for not crashing and killing myself. I've done the same thing in South Africa. Brilliant fun. But I'd never ever even packed up my motorbike for more than a night, and certainly [hadn’t] gone anywhere abroad. So it was quite a big leap.

Jim: So what was your trip like?

Claire: It was incredible. It was…I mean, certainly traveling across Europe and then to Turkey was just absolutely fantastic. I had a brilliant time. I think I'd always thought so much about getting through Africa. But that initial part was also just a brilliant experience then. But there were some tricky parts. Certainly Egypt was the first country in the continent of Africa that I came to, and that was actually really challenging for me. I think particularly as a single female on a motorbike, I think a lot of local people really misinterpreted what it meant. So I had a lot of unwelcome advances. There were situations where I felt quite threatened, and it was really…that was extremely difficult as well as the fact that the bureaucracy there is just off the charts. Or it certainly was when I was there, which was 2012-ish time. But then, once I actually got out of Egypt, I had an absolutely incredible time. Whether it was…even [in] Sudan, which a lot of people in the UK were thinking, oh my goodness. Is that safe? Are you going to be okay? I had nothing but kindness and also incredible hospitality from people. Then every single country after that was…which always amazes me how [when] you pass through a border, which is a relatively arbitrary thing in many respects, but the geography changes, the landscape changes, the dress, the language…everything. It was that constant joy…and slight disorientation actually, for the first few days of- okay, what's the gig here? What are the norms? What is this like? But that real joy of just exploring and feeling completely free, I absolutely loved. I really just loved it.

Jim: Are you doing your own work on your bike while you're going through this trip?

Claire: Yes- and that also was not easy. Because I’d done some training in advance, but actually, I initially was really…I would say intimidated by the bike. The thought of even doing something as simple as checking the oil level and topping it up…I mean, literally, I was not used to doing those things. I was petrified of accidentally somehow blowing up the entire bike. I don't know how I thought I could do that, but it just seemed like- this thing is so important, and I know that I just don't know a lot…that kind of thing. But actually I was really fortunate because whenever I was in a situation where I was feeling uncertain (especially this always happened in Europe), some sort of bearded Dutchman or it could be some other version but someone generally with a beard would turn up and just point out what I needed to do. Or say something reassuring and give me some guidance. Then I just had that feeling of, okay yeah, I do know what I'm doing. Everything's fine, and I feel better. Then it just seemed to flow from that point. So yeah, I did. I was pretty obsessive with maintenance, pretty much every day. I had my checks I would go through, and that was my way of feeling like I was trying to take some responsibility for my safety. Also I absolutely knew, especially after Egypt, that I didn't want to ever have a situation where I felt in any danger. That the bike was going to let me down because I hadn’t looked after it. So I thought, if I look after the bike it might look after me in return, and that's my way of trying to keep myself safe. So I actually started to really enjoy it.

Jim: So what you learned from all of this I guess is that- beards mean mechanical abilities?

Claire: Absolutely every time, Jim. I can't explain why. I’m surprised to say that I haven't grown a beard. But it was strange. It was uncanny. Even when I was having challenges with my petrol camping stove, random bearded Dutchman would always appear. It was uncanny. But yeah- absolutely. So it was really nice that, actually that camaraderie of bikers I suppose, really got me through those first few weeks of just feeling nervous about everything. It was great. It was really nice.

Jim: Did you make it all the way to Cape Town without a puncture?

Claire: Yeah, yeah I did.

Jim: Wow, so you basically had no trouble really. Nothing major.

Claire: Nothing major. I did have…again, nothing major…but I was doing a really exciting border crossing in Namibia, which…basically where the Orange River in Namibia forms the border between Namibia and South Africa. It's really not [a] very used border crossing. It’s well out of the way, it's all off-road- stunning scenery. But that was exactly where the hose that came off, came off the petrol tank [and] into the engine I think it was, perished. So all of a sudden I had a real stink of petrol near my leg and I just simply needed to replace this rubber hose. Not that technical clearly, but it was such a hot day. There was no shade, and it's kind of a fiddly job. So but I enjoy [it]. It’s just kind of fun. You think, okay, it is what it is, luckily I had a bit of spare hose there, and I’ve got time. I don't need to panic. And that was the biggest drama that I had with anything mechanical. So I think yeah, it was it was brilliant in that respect.

Jim: Did you find anywhere where you could put your micro-finance idea to work?

Claire: Well, do you know, this was incredible as well, because I'd run a few places in advance of the trip, and I'd come across one organization in Malawi that said- yeah, you can come and stay with us. Maybe three months- that's great. But in terms of what we need, we actually are fairly well covered with our finance strategy. But what we really need some help [with] is with our motorbikes. I’m like, what? Sorry- what do you do with motorbikes? They said; oh, we have 80 of them, and we're using them to put our loan officers on them, so that they can get to women in rural communities. Because actually the people in most need of this finance aren't the people living close to town, because they're probably a bit wealthier anyway. I mean, we're talking relatively. But the women in the rural areas- no one goes there, they can't get to town. So we put our loan officers on motorbikes to get to them. Which is great, but actually they're breaking down all the time. It's having a lot of issues with downtime, and project, and field offices getting stuck in the field, and also the repair costs. So it's becoming a real issue. So can you come, and just basically work out what's going wrong, and fix it? At the time when I was told that, I sort of thought well, how on earth could I possibly know what's going wrong? It could be potentially hundreds of different things. So I said, look I'm not a mechanic, but let me…by all means I'll turn up, and I'll do my absolute best for you. But please understand; I'm not a mechanic. They said, you probably know more than you think. Just turn up and see what you can do. So that's what I did, which was quite an experience.

Jim: Well, sure. You're a stockbroker that is afraid you're going to blow up your bike, and they’re asking you to come figure it out. But you're really not going…I mean, in my mind, when I listen to you say this it's like, you're not really going to look necessarily (at least what I would imagine) into repairing a vehicle, as much as a system. Because that's the real problem, isn't it?

Claire: Yeah, and that's exactly what I discovered when I got there. Because I said, can you show me one or two of your best bikes? And they were like; yeah, sure…They showed me this thing which was such a sad wreck, and you could see immediately…I mean, I remember looking at the chain and it was so tight, it was about to snap and it was extremely rusty. So I guess that tells you a certain amount. The tires had no tread left on them. When I tried to look at, I was obsessed with air filters, so when I tried to take the fairing off the side of the bike to get to the air filter box, I remember an ant nest fell out. Then I opened up the casing where the filter should have been, and I couldn’t find where the filter was. I was like, crikey, is this just a different design? So I was scooping out all this sand from the air filter box going, okay, is there something at the bottom of this? But literally I dug out several hands worth of sand, and there was no air filter in there. Then I thought, this is just weird. So when the nominal mechanic walked by, I said, my friend you know seems like I mean forgive me but it seems like there's no air filter in there. He goes, yeah that’s true. And I said, are you still riding it? He said, yes, yes, we are. I said, but are you not worried to be riding in these sandy dusty conditions with no air filter? He said, no, so far no problem, no problem- we're saving money. I was like, oh no, please please. So very quickly, you're absolutely right. The whole system of maintenance and understanding, also the concept of investing in something which hasn't yet broken, in some communities is a complete anathema. So I did understand that, but at the same time it was clear it was costing them time and money and issues, and it couldn't be. It couldn't continue. So it was this entire thing of, okay, what is the necessary means then? So how are we going to set up a process? But also, how can we empower the loan officers who are the ones who are being inconvenienced all the time, and stuck in the middle of nowhere? To at least know what maintenance that they could do, how to keep an eye on safe conditions of their bikes…I mean, particularly things like chain tension, and tire tread, and those things. The level of your brake fluid in your hydraulic brakes. Those are the things that you as a rider absolutely should keep an eye on to be able to say, okay that doesn't look right. Or, I'm sure I'm riding on a bike with a brake that maybe half used out, or completely used by now. So that's basically what I did. I designed a program to train those guys. Then I went round Mahlon training up the loan officers in maintenance.

Jim: What's the history of motorcycles for them? Is it something that's fairly new? I mean, I’m just sort of curious…I can understand what you're saying about [how] you mentioned that (and I think it's a really good observation) of the spending money on something before it actually breaks. It does, I mean…from one angle you can look at and say, well yeah, why would you bother doing that? And the air filter, too. I mean, if it clogs, take it out. Look- problem solved. So you can understand where a lot of that comes from, but is there not a history of motorcycles there? Are there not systems set up in place for motorcycling in general?

Claire: No, not at all. And it's such an interesting issue because, certainly the time when I visited Malawi (and I sadly don't think it's changed too much, it's the fifth poorest country in Africa, which is kind of saying something) the thing is, there is this mindset of- why would I spend precious financial resources that may be needed tomorrow? Or even today? By a sick relative, or whatever else, or for school fees or something that isn't yet a problem. Because maybe tomorrow, goodness knows, maybe I'll be dead, or who knows what. So it doesn't seem [that] that thinking about planning for the future and that certainty of, no no I’ll be here in a week's time and that chain will be even more of a problem by then and I'll want to spend money on it then, isn't really there. Actually that's something that is a luxury, which I never really thought of before. But that certainty we always have about, no no, I’ll be around in a week or a months time, is something else. But also, no. There's not much a history of motorbikes. In fact, unlike Tanzania where I live now, you don’t see that many motorbikes on the road there, because people just can't afford them. Also there is a sad history of a lot of projects of various kinds, particularly NGOs but all kinds donating, with the best heart, donating equipment. Particularly vehicles. But without understanding perhaps the full extent of people's lack of awareness about the importance of doing maintenance, but also providing a budget for buying spare parts and that kind of thing. So I saw so many situations where there were just graveyards of broken motorcycles, and broken down land cruisers, and broken down pickup trucks, and broken down tractors. All these things that you think, oh please it’s probably that the problem’s small, but the resources aren't there, and the knowledge isn't there to sustain those things. So things just fall apart really quickly. Of course the conditions are tough, but no, that knowledge isn't there.

Jim: As well as the supply chain, because that's so important. Even just a small part can set you back if you have no supply chain.

Claire: Completely, completely, and this is one of the things we were battling. I mean, these were Yamaha DT125 bikes (from memory), and buying a genuine replacement Yamaha chain was available. But I think it was something like three times more expensive than a cheap Chinese fake one. So of course logically, you look at that and think, well why would I spend three times more on something when this one looks identical? Except it had proven itself that you would need 10 of those Chinese motorcycles chains for the same duration as if you just been running the Yamaha one. So of course over time, the value was terrible. And every time you were having downtime to replace the thing or whatever else. But again, if people are living on a sort of day to day mindset, it's not always that easy. Also when money is scarce, it's difficult to always think like that.

Jim: So were you successful? Did you manage to get them sorted out so they had a regular maintenance schedule, and a supply chain, and they were able to keep their motorcycles on the road?

Claire: Yeah, it was great actually. So it was a combination. It was kind of a multi-pronged strategy. Talking to the loan officers was great, and I was expecting some more pushback. [Just] because sometimes in a male dominated area, which motorcycling can be especially in somewhere like Malawi, I wasn't sure if I…it wasn’t…I would say it was offer of sharing information. I wasn't claiming to be teaching people because I seemed a little bit pompous. But I was like, okay this has worked for me, how has it worked for you? And actually, people really received that well, which was that they wanted to learn because they’re like oh yeah we’re fed up with all these breakdowns and things, and this makes sense and it’s interesting, and it's fun actually. So that was one part of it. But also I spent a lot of time with the procurement manager who was really struggling to get comfortable with the idea of buying spare parts that were three times more than the ones he’d been buying before. So then I had to escalate it a little bit higher, and also talk to the man in charge, and explain that, too. But it was okay, it was all possible. Actually in so many of these situations, if you just prepare to take the time and you have the time to have these conversations at various levels things generally do change. So the running cost for those bikes reduced by 60 percent through a combination of better maintenance and using the right spare parts, which just got me thinking, wow, what a buzz. That was only really two or three months worth of work, but really felt like, wow that's helped, that's made a difference. That’s something that people wanted, and it's made an impact on every front. So that's made a real difference. So for me that was a huge buzz.

Jim: And now it's over, you head back home- what do you do?

Claire: So I safely get to Cape Town, I get back home and I first of all went up to Scotland where I spent time before, and I love it up there. It's in the highlands of Scotland. I was able to hole up in a little cottage up there. My plan was- because you know of course by this point I actually do understand a little bit more about [how] there's all these amazing adventures around the world. I’d been to my first HUBB meet, and I’d heard about people like Sam Manicom and I started reading his books. I was thinking, wow. And of course the Lois Pryce. I thought wow, you know, maybe I can write a book. I'd love to be like these people. It’s incredible. I've blogged along the way and that was great fun and I loved it. Just me on my iPhone in my tent for two hours every couple of nights, and it was just it was great. But you know what? It's really hard to write a book I’ve discovered. I was struggling plus getting from sunny Africa in August back to really getting slightly colder U.K. by September/October and being in a freezing cottage quite isolated is not really the best thing. So, that was not very successful. So after, probably the spring time, I decided I think I need to probably go back to London. Probably go back to something like my old job because I can't see another route right now. So that's what I did. But life had another another idea for me I think, because within a week of doing that my bike by this point had arrived back from South Africa. I moved back into my old flat and within a week of starting my old job, my motorbike that I had ridden…my trusty motorbike that I had ridden motorcycle from from London to Cape Town…was stolen. I still haven't seen again since. Oh brutal. But in a way it propelled me to try to find other ways to keep the trip alive beyond riding the motorcycle everyday, which had been my touchstone to this trip really. Because a lot of it…sometimes I felt like, was that even real? Did that really happen? This incredible trip. Then I'd look at the bike and see all the scratches and cuts on it, and think oh yeah, I remember that accident, and that moment and whatever. So I had to find a different way to keep it alive, and that's how I ended up meeting a great guy called Ron at another HUBB meet about a few months later. He explained about a charity he was involved with, and how they were looking to put midwives on motorbikes in southern Tanzania. Lots of conversations then ran and it seemed as though they needed somebody to help train up these midwives in maintenance, and to help start initiate this project, and would I be interested in going? I just thought, well absolutely. That sounds like a really fun project so I arranged to take some holiday from work and got myself down there-

Jim: Because you’re back at work. You're already back to work by this time.

Claire: Yes, I’m back at work by this time. Absolutely. Which was difficult. [It’s] really difficult to re-enter to that world after you've been living on a really really frugal existence, but still extremely happily and you really see the true value of money, and how other people are really scratching by. You see the world through a totally different lens. Some people said to me, after six weeks of being back in the UK, it’ll be like nothing ever changed for you. You'll just slot right back in, and this whole world of over-landing in Africa will just fade into the back of your brain. It totally didn't. It absolutely didn't. I think for me it was taken over my brain, and I just couldn't let it go. So the opportunity to go back to Tanzania and to do something with motorbikes and something useful was just…I just leapt at it.

Jim: So you take vacation from your job. That is sort of a sign there that means you're planning on coming back. This is just a vacation. By the way, does Ron have a beard?

Claire: Ron does not have a beard. I can’t imagine Ron with a beard, actually. But he is an excellent individual despite not having a beard.

Jim: Right. Well [that] explains why he's coming to you though, for motorcycle repair information, he has no beard.

Claire: Exactly. He just couldn't manage on his own. You've actually tacked that, you’ve worked out the exception there, Jim. Well done. Yes.

Jim: I’m very quick. So talk about this trip then to Tanzania.

Claire: So it was a pretty brief trip, I think it was 10 days in total, I think. But yeah- flew to DAR, took a little Cessna flight down to Songea…I mean way down the south of Tanzania, the poorest region. The idea was [that] I would be training…I think it was three or five midwives…so that they could then ride out on motorcycles (that the charity would be providing) to run prenatal antenatal clinics for rural women in Tanzania who are pregnant. Because in Tanzania, around 24 women everyday really tragically die in pregnancy and childbirth through preventable causes. It's just a horrible situation, a horrible statistic, and it particularly affects women who are living in rural areas. Actually I think something like 80 percent of the population Tanzania currently are living in rural areas, so it’s by and large the majority of people here. It's a big country, and one of the main contributors that is the lack of prenatal care. So- screening, and letting women know [that] when you want to give birth make sure you can get yourself to a well-equipped health facility or hospital. Because if you have a complication [while] you're giving birth at home, it could be a real issue. And even without that you need to be sterile and clean and etc. Also then there's a lack of transport to get from the home to the hospital or the health centre, if a woman is in that situation she's giving birth and she needs to get there. There's often a lack of transport because it's middle of the night. It's a rural area that kind of thing. Then the final issue is when people actually get to hospital. Sometimes it's a lack of care, lack of swift response, that kind of thing. So this charity was trying to address the first issue, which is simply preventative. Run these antenatal clinics in rural areas and tell women about the importance of screening for malaria, and using nets, and weighing and measure…all that good stuff. That was the point. So I was trying to teach the maintenance so that the bikes would be sustainable.

Jim: So with this being the second project you’ve worked on, was there one thing that sort of stood out to you that was the real problem? Or is it just a combination of a whole bunch of things?

Claire: You know, what? It was it was the fact that maintenance can't be viewed in isolation. Because actually what was really interesting to me is…of course and that's not to say that maintenance isn’t important, it’s really important and it can definitely save lives. But I just had a lot of time or opportunity, or maybe I just started noticing, I'm not sure…but I just really started noticing how a lot of the contributing factors to the wear and tear on these bikes was because people had never been to any kind of driving school. They'd maybe been taught to ride these bikes from (I’m talking general people, I’m not talking about the midwives)…But if we look to the local community- motorbikes were everywhere being ridden as taxis. But people generally had been taught by a friend or brother. So people's bad habits have been passed on and magnified. So I would see guys who would hold their clutch in all the way downhill, or turn off their engine to save petrol, but without any thought as to…do I still have the same level of control of my motorcycle now that I've done this? Am I creating excessive wear on my clutch? Am I less easy to hear when my engine is off? All these things but also- people just not wearing helmets or wearing them back to front, or wearing them really loose with no clip done up. You just look at this and you think, am I just being obsessive? Or is this a real problem? And then I spoke to the guy who was hosting me. He was a medic, a local medic, and he said- you have no idea. If you want, come with me to a local hospital. There is a dedicated motorcycle crash ward in this hospital for the riders but also the passengers and the passersby who get mown down on a daily basis by these motorbike taxi drivers. Just getting into all kinds of a mess. So absolutely having a road where the vehicle is important. But if you're actually simply a dangerous driver, and also creating excessive wear and tear on your bike because you're doing some crazy stuff, but you're not wearing a helmet…All these things add up together. So you kind of need to take a holistic approach to all this if you're going to try and solve any of these problems. So I did. I stupidly went with him to the hospital (I say stupidly because I am rubbish at blood and gore and smells of disease). So I really felt the clouds of unconsciousness coming over me a few times, but I managed to fight that. But- ah, these injuries. And this is the other thing because the medical services are not really equipped to look after people who've had really extreme crashes, compound fractures, complicated head injuries. If you have a crash, it's probably a life changing injury for you. You'll probably never walk again, you'll probably never function again. And now you're not generating an income for your family, you're probably a burden and that whole magnifies as well. We kind of take it for granted. Okay. It's unfortunate, massively unfortunate, if you have a crash. But you're probably going to be more or less okay again afterwards. In this case no. And of course no one's got any sort of life insurance or any kind of anything. So you're really screwed. So it's a huge issue. And it turns out across Tanzania there are motorcycle crash wards absolutely everywhere, so it's a big big problem. So yeah, it’s just basically a huge issue, and one that isn't really or wasn't really being tackled by any kind of agency or the government. It was just creating a huge huge strain on the government's coffers but also just on a family basis, it was just hideous.

Jim: Who pays for medical care?

Claire: Interesting question. Generally the government is supposed to pick up the tab for certain things, but only things like labouring mothers, people with HIV, old people…they pick up the tab. And [for] kids. But they don’t pick up the tab if you are a fit and healthy, otherwise fit and healthy young man. It’s typically people between the ages of maybe 18 and 40 who are riding these motorbikes who’ve just had a crash through your own actions. You have to pay the bill for that. So it creates a strain on the hospitals, because they've just got so many people coming in, and they can't cope with it. But also it's a real shock to a family to have to generate the medical expenses, or to cover the medical expenses, when these guys are having crashes. It's a big big issue.

Jim: So now that you see this new sort of hurdle, what did you do with it?

Claire: Well, I kind of…my brain started ticking, because I thought it was… to me, it was just so unnecessary. I suppose I felt like I've had so much amazing training, and in the UK people complain about the tests and things, but when I took it it was very thorough. I have to say it was the older system, but I had great tuition. I could go for advanced off-roading training (which I did). I could go for training with the police to make sure that I was still not developed any funny habits a few years down the line. All these really great trainings to make sure I was constantly improving my skills and staying safe. Here there’s nothing, and there's nowhere to turn, and no one's going to give you that training. So I just felt like wow, I've had so many privileges and access to so much. Perhaps as a way that I can actually share what I've learned, and develop something that's appropriate to this area that can stop these unnecessary accidents happening. I strongly felt like, I think these accidents are happening not because people don't care, it's just no one's ever taught them. Sadly even, you know, there's so many things in life where I feel like we (all of us) do things which to someone else may seem idiotic, but we've just never thought it through or no one ever pointed out the flaw in what we're doing. Generally when someone says to you, by the way that thing it's actually you creating an issue with this, but if you did it this way, you wouldn't have a problem- generally most people, if it's done in the right way, go hey thanks! That's great. I had no idea, but thanks. Common sense isn't that common unless you get told about it. So I thought maybe this is something I could do something about, and my original idea was, could I start something which is as simple as a motorbike workshop? A simple one though. Just doing basic maintenance at first. Use it as a platform to promote maintenance, and road safety and people wearing helmets, and that kind of good stuff. But instead of- I didn't really want to start as an NGO because I felt like, well actually, I think there's a way that people can earn an income by doing this. Whether it's by offering tire pressure checks and blowing up tires, or whether it's adjusting chain tensions. Those are things you can…people are prepared to pay money for, and can pay money for. And that means that someone can earn an income. Why can't we do it like that? Why can't we have a social enterprise? So on the one hand, we're running safety classes and driving lessons and that kind of thing for motorcycles, but we're also offering services that people can pay a reasonable sum for, and we can sustain ourselves with that income. I thought, could we also do a twist on this? Which is that all the apprentices or the people delivering those services are women? Because you don't see many women in engineering, and you certainly don't really see many women riding motorbikes. But it's not taboo, it's just not really done. I think it's because there's a lack of role models, and it's just something that no one’s ever really fostered. But how about we try and do that? Because women tend to generally be a lot more effective in reinvesting whatever profits or income they make back into their families and into their education and that kind of thing and their health. Generally so quite a bit more so than men. So I thought, I wonder if we could do that? So that was my original idea.

Jim: The investing money back in, and then you're saying that women are generally better than men, that’s actually a fact, isn't it.

Claire: It is actually. I mean, I always feel a bit cautious saying that. Because I'm not…the last thing I'm trying to present is women are better than men, or anything like that. But there has actually been some research, quite a bit of research gone into this, which is I think women typically reinvest 80 percent of their take home pay, their profits, back into kids education/health. Men; think it's somewhere between 20 and 40 percent. It's quite a lot less. So you definitely get a better magnify by empowering these women.

Jim: I just want to clarify that that's not necessarily… that's not your opinion. That's proven through research. But what's happening to you at this point? What sort of change? I mean, you've sort of opened for a change in life, and you said right from the start, you're sort of tired of your job. You've already went back to it. So it is your go-to. What's changing with you now? Or is anything changing?

Claire: Oh. completely. After this trip to Tanzania, and this is really the first time back to Africa since the road trip, and just the minute I landed back even in DAR airport…and for those who’ve been, I mean, it's hardly a beautiful place…but even the smell of the air, I just felt somehow relaxed. Even though I think my luggage got lost, and there was this whole chaos at 4:00 in the morning, and then the person who was supposed to pick me up had obviously given up the will to live by this point, and just gone home…I didn't even feel vaguely stressed by it. I just felt like, yeah I can sort everything, it's all cool. I feel relaxed and happy here. It was just great to be back in Africa. So that totally took over my brain. I tried to go back to work after this trip, and just throw myself back into work. But I kept on this idea that I had about starting this workshop. [It] just was totally taking over my brain. I can remember having a chat with a trusted colleague, just in a lunchtime, [saying] I’ve got this idea and I can't seem to leave it alone, and I talked it over with her. And, she's very sensible. But I remember her saying, well Claire, I don't see how this is going to work. I just don't see…has anyone ever done this before? I said no. Well, okay. Are you sure that it works? No. Are you sure of X and Y and Z? I was like, no but I really think it could work. And just because no one's done it before, does that mean they shouldn’t? I increasingly had this feeling like, I have to try. Even if I find out it's a totally wacky stupid idea, and no one wants it, and it's just a disaster. I think I have to try. I've always had this thing in the back of my brain; I never want to get to the age of hopefully a hundred, and maybe my body is packing up by that point I don't know, and think, oh the thing that I always wish I had done, if only I had a bit more courage or bravery or whatever it was, was this thing. And I never did it, just because I was scared. That to me doesn't seem quite…It’s not the way I want to live. So I increasingly thought, I think I just got to go and see if this works. And if it doesn't then fine, but at least I know.

Jim: We’re going to take a short break and be right back. When we come back we’re going to listen to Claire's story about her grandmother. But we also have Graham Field after that, so stay with us.


Jim: It was your grandmother that sort of sparked that thought, wasn't it? About arriving at your later years in life, looking back and thinking, geez- I wish I had.

Claire: Yeah, absolutely. She said this to me after she had a bad accident in her care home. And you know, there's something really sobering about seeing your grandmother-

Jim: Well, tell the story. What did she say to you?

Claire: I think she was in her 80s, I think mid to late 80s at this point. She'd always been a very physically strong, tough woman, like from the north of England. People from the north, it is a stereotype of course, but they're usually pretty hardy no-nonsense, that kind of thing. That's her. She had been getting a little bit frailer. But one day she had a fall in her care home, and she broke both the lower bones in her right arm, which is really nasty. She had to have surgery to try and fix it, and it was bad. So I think a day or two after the surgery, I took a day off work and I went to see her, because I was very worried about her. We were just having a chat. And I mean, apart from anything she'd suddenly shrunken down from being quite durable. I used to think she’d live forever and things, because she just seemed like she had that. She was indestructible. Suddenly she just seemed very frail and fragile and elderly. Then she, out of nowhere, she just said to me; I wish when I was your age, I’d done the things that I'd wanted to do, and not the things other people expected me to do. I wish that I'd been braver. She said it in such a…I guess in a really resigned tone, but I felt like she was saying it to me for a reason. She’d never said anything like that to me before. I had every reason to think she'd loved every aspect of her life and she wouldn't have changed a bit of it. To suddenly hear, actually no she never did tell me, and she's still alive but she's not quite so with it these days, she never did tell me. I wish I had asked what it was that she wish she'd done. But the message was clear, which is, everything runs out one day. And do you want to…don’t let this be you. Don't be a hundred and eighty in a care home one day sipping Horlicks and wishing you had done something, and the only reason you hadn't done it was just a little bit of fear. So for me that was a huge wake up- huge. So yeah, that's actually been a huge huge factor in how I make decisions now actually. I don't know if that sounds morbid it, I hope it doesn't. I want to live for a really long time but it reminds me that everyday is precious, and I shouldn't assume anything about it or waste it. I guess that's the point. To really live it to the full and to try to give as best as I can, and to have an adventure with it I guess. So for me I thought back on that and thought you know what, if I think this thing has even half a chance of working, I have to find out if it will. And if it doesn’t, it just doesn't matter, it's fine, I've learned something. But I just really had this really strong niggle like, I think I have to give it a whirl.

Jim: This idea of setting up a maintenance program, and road safety program, and getting women involved in it…I mean, it's totally altruistic. Did you think about making money at this point? Well, let me ask you first…when you were growing up, were you altruistic? Were you out there doing causes, doing charity work, that sort of thing? Is that something that's in your DNA.

Claire: Yeah, it is. I never grew up like, I certainly never grew up thinking I want to be a stockbroker. I actually wanted to be a vet. But like I said I pass out at the sight of blood, and I'm not that good at chemistry and maths and physics, so I thought that's probably not gonna work out so well. But no, I mean for me, I always used to get a buzz out of doing something that helps someone else. Or you know, some sort of volunteering thing, or where you could see you'd made a difference. I really like that stuff. So for me it was never about, oh when I grow up I want the biggest house and the nicest handbag, I couldn’t give two monkeys about that. It was always about how to feel alive, and how to give something in a way. If that doesn't sound too naff. So that was always my thing, really. So no, when I was thinking about setting this up, I never really thought too much about it. (How am I going to make an income out of it? What's in it for me?) It was just- what an incredible thing. If I could stop all these horrible unnecessary deaths…because I know a lot of people, well some people, would say- well you don't know these people, they're not your neighbours. Why do you care so much? But actually, if you've spent a year on the road, and you've had numerous incidents where complete strangers who had very little literally at certain points are picking you up from underneath your motorbike covered in mud, and are dusting you off and checking you’re okay and packing you off on your way, and finding a friend to make sure they lead you on the right path back to the right route or whatever. People really going out their way to show you care and love in a sense, just as a fellow human being. It becomes really infectious. So actually when you look at people suffering unnecessarily through for a reason that you think, goodness if you just had a bit more of a training and knowledge this wouldn't have happened, and look at the devastation it's caused…I can't really turn away from that. Especially when I know [that] I could be the one to help fix that problem. And it's rare that I do. I mean, I'm not a medic, and I'm not a teacher, and you know…all the more obvious ways in which you can help people. But this was like, wow, I think I can make a real difference and avoid a lot of suffering for a lot of people. I’ve just got to give it a whirl.

Jim: So what put you in a position then to go and decide to make this this dream, at least an attempt to make it, a reality?

Claire: I guess… I suppose things became more and more intense at work, and I realized you know what, this really…I can't dedicate my life to this. At this point I've saved a little bit of money from work and I thought, you know what, I could give myself the breathing space of a year if I live carefully and frugally and whatever else. I could give myself the space to try this out, and I think I've got to. So I basically got to the September of 2015 and I thought you know what I'm going to… I'm going to quit my job and I'm going to go out and do another {?} trip to Songea, to southern Tanzania and see if this works. Talk to local people. Ask if they know what they think of this. Is it acceptable? Is it a good one? What are the issues? And just start, really. It was just sort of…it felt like I was in a pressure cooker, and something had to give. I was like, yeah I just think I just need to make this happen, and see if it’s possible. So that's what I did.

Jim: So what is Pikilily?

Claire: So Pikilily- Oh I should explain the name as well, because it doesn't explain itself. In Swahili, which is the language of Tanzania and a couple of other countries too, piki-piki is a motorcycle. So that's the first part, the piki part. And then the second part- in the UK at least, the Lily is a flower of women and partnership and connection. I thought, we put the two together and you get Pikilily, which is actually also spelt wrongly. But it's the name of my favourite chutney. So that's got to also make sense. But it just felt like, yeah- we're trying to bring together communities, and motorcycles, and that whole thing. So Pikilily now- it started off by us physically building and crowdfunding with the amazing generosity of largely the motorcycling community it has to be said from around the world, friends, contacts etc. We crowdfunded the build of this workshop. We built it. It was finished by more or less January 2017. We've got the business license sorted a whole load of admin later. We have a workshop that's built. We then started looking for some women who might be interested in working with us as apprentices. Right about the same time, we were approached by the district medical officer from our neighbouring district who said, look I've got these two motorcycle ambulances (which is like a motorbike with a side car that's been specially designed to carry a patient, it's lifeline, everything- it’s like a stretcher in a cage on wheels). We've got these two motorbike ambulances, they don't run anymore, and we really don't know why and they've always been a bit of a problem. But you know, we're a rural community of seven hundred thousand people, and we don't have a functioning ambulance service. So can you get them working for us again, and we can run them? So of course immediately I'm interested, but when I go to check them out he said, okay so basically we only got 1000 kilometres on the clock. I checked it and it's true. There's all these contributing factors when you start asking some questions as to why they didn't work any more. So long story short, he said can you fix them. We said yes, but let us also change a few other situations here so that this is sustained. So our idea became then to train our women to become motorbike ambulance drivers, technicians, maintenance experts, the whole thing. Then the idea would be to run that service for a year on a pilot basis in the community to demonstrate. Yeah actually, if you've got fully trained riders, you've got the spare parts, you’re doing the maintenance. This is a really cost effective reliable service that actually, given that there has also 400 of these things around the country, this needs to be rolled out and we can make huge impacts and we can provide that reliable emergency transportation system, which is largely absent, which is terrifying. So that became another part of our work, and very quickly things totally snowballed in a way which was thrilling, but also terrifying. Because at this point it’s still just me, {?} part time because he's also running his own carpentry workshop where he has 10 apprentices. Many of whom are former street kids, and he's doing incredible things. He’s a busy man. So I also get approached by some corporates around Africa who have workers and community members who are also having hideous accidents on motorcycles. And they say, can you come and run a training workshop for us? We can pay you for that, and clearly you can put the money then back into the project. So I find myself going to the D.R. Congo, the Ivory Coast, Mali…all these incredible places that I never expected to go to, training over a thousand members of the community and workers on how to stay safe on a motorbike. These are communities with even more severe problems with motorbikes than Tanzania. So it was {an} incredible experience. So last year it was crazy how much happened. But we really have reached the point now that we just about…I mean, this is why I’m in Sangrea today. We're trying to finish the final stages of setting up this motorbike ambulance service. We've got so much more to do, but we haven’t…the team is getting too small for the for the amount of work that there is. We're also trying to train local motorbike taxi drivers, and we've got all kinds of people interested in funding that part, which is great. But for the organization as a whole, we just need more people, more teams, more trainers, more everything. Because, we're the only organization in Africa that's running this service, and there's just so much demand. Which is brilliant that there is that level of interest, but it's also quite overwhelming at times because we just don't have the capacity to handle it. We’ve self funded everything so far, so we haven't got a big donor or a big social impact fund or something that's come in…we are really going on a shoestring. So it’s…yeah. It’s interesting.

Jim: So it's a business. You’ve set it up to be a business, like you said, it’s not an NGO. It's not being financed from somebody from another country or something like that. So is the work that you're doing now- is that bringing money back in? Is the business flourishing?

Claire: Yeah. So to be super clear about it, it is technically… it is a business, but we're running it as a social enterprise. Maybe people haven't heard so much about what that means. But basically what it means in this context is, we have a basic cost (so, you know, workshop/rent/electricity/salaries for our receptionist, and at some point hopefully a basic one for me would be lovely), but once we've paid our costs, any profit we make that is in excess of that goes back in. So for example from the corporate work we do on…to an extent we also work for NGO sometimes and we charge them sort of a middling rate…any work, any income that we make which is profit goes back in and helps us to pay for our community projects. So whether that’s subsidizing paying for boda boda training, the motorbike taxi training (they’re called boda boda’s), they can't afford to pay much but they still desperately need training, that subsidizes that work. The motorbike ambulance work also subsidizes that work because at the moment we're offering that for free for a year. So the mission of our social enterprise is not to make specific people wealthy, or anybody wealthy. We just want to pay everyone a fair wage. Then any profits go back into developing the community to make sure we're doing everything we can to reduce motorcycle crashes, and make sure that any motorbikes are running reliable and safe. So that's the way it's working.

Jim: You mentioned that you work for NGOs sometimes. When you work for an NGO, do you charge sort of Western dollars value wise, or do you charge in local value wise? In other words, you know like, if you were to get something done in the Western world, it would cost maybe tens of thousands of dollars. But maybe locally there it would be very, very small.

Claire: Yeah it is an interesting one. Actually we have a model which basically is a sliding scale. So for an NGO…let’s put it this way. For the corporates who are [big] (we're talking about like big big some of the biggest mining companies in the world), we charge them the full rate, Which would be like…almost like a western rate for a consultant coming in and doing that work. Because they can afford it. They expect to pay that rate. I think there's also sometimes a level of, if you're too cheap, people think that possibly you're not the full ticket. But that's great because it goes back in and that all goes back into the pot. For an NGO, no. It's not really ethical to charge them those sorts of rates. So we have a sort of middling to low charge price. And it is really a local rate that we charge for NGOs, because some of them are remarkably well funded. But you see a lot of variation in how their budgets are spent. But we're not here to rip off NGOs. So our rate is substantially lower than what a corporate would pay. But it's kind of like the minimum that we can charge to make ourselves a tiny income. But we're not ripping their eyes out by any stretch. And then the boda boda’s can pay…I mean, typically they can only pay like three pounds. So in dollars, what like, 5 ish dollars? For a three day training course. It's important that they pay something because there’s dignity in paying for something. Also people tend to pay attention more if they've paid something for it. And that literally covers the cost of printing the certificate at the end, the certificate is very important to people, and maybe a simple lunch and a soda. But by no means does that cover our costs. So that's one of those things that we have to then take the money from the corporate to subsidize the boda boda. So that's basically the model. We're not really at the scale where it totally works yet, which is why we don't really have as many staff in our HQ as I wish we did. So a lot of it falls back onto me. But we've got some ideas as to how to overcome that. And do you know what? In a way, the fact that we're not funded by a big organization allows us actually to be much more flexible. Because my whole thing is, I really want us to be here to deliver the best value for the communities we work in, and actually to make a real impact and for it to make sense. Because sometimes I know in rural I've heard a few chats about maybe NGOs or projects that are doing things that don't make sense. And you think well, hold on, but you're spending all this money on maybe vehicles, buying flashy land cruisers…But but how can that make sense when you look at things and you think that somebody hasn't really completely thought this through. The beauty of us at least being pretty bootstrapped is we can be flexible because we’re answerable to ourselves. So actually if we have a particular model of how something should work, and then we realize we need to tweak it a little bit and then it’d be so much more effective, we can do that and it's brilliant. So actually at these initial stages, though it's tough, there's something beautiful about having a thing of, you know what? Our focus is just that everything makes sense, and that we're making the best impact for the local people as possible in how ever we do that. So we're able to do that. We can be flexible. I know that some funders are very specific about what they'll get funding for, and in the way they'll give/provide that, and you’re very limited then. Then you can well be in a situation (I’ve seen it here a lot) [where] people continue with a project for three years that they know isn't that effective, just because that's what they signed up to do. That doesn't make sense to me. So we struggle a little bit, but we're getting there. Things are going in the right direction. So I'm keeping the faith.

Jim: The boda boda, the taxi…that you're saying about training the taxi drivers. Is that coming from licensing? Has the government changed something where the taxi drivers are now having to get a licence? Is that what's happening?

Claire: To an extent, yes. There's been a new president in for about the last two years. He is all about anti-corruption, and everything being correct and on the table…a lot of people have fake certificates of education, etc. The boda boda’s generally don’t. They generally just have no license, and they've just been winging it for the last couple of years because no one checked, and it didn't really matter. But that's becoming increasingly unacceptable. So we've had various boda boda’s coming to our workshop looking quite panicked because they've been approached by a government official of some kind saying, where's your business license to operate as a boda boda? Where’s your driving licence? If you don’t have one and I find you again, you will be in prison or you will face a fine that you basically can’t afford. So its really terrifying for these guys. So there is absolutely a push towards licensing but where we come into that is…well the government colleges haven’t got the capacity to keep up with this demand. Actually with all respect, the level and the depth of the training that you get at the Government College is pretty mild, and it really isn’t enough to keep you safe on the town's main roads. It’s simply not. So we’ve been working with the road traffic authorities in Mwanza, and also in Gater region (which is a neighbouring one), to talk about hosting mass training events for boda boda, so not only do they absolutely respect and cover the Tanzanian syllabus as is totally right…but we also supplement that with our tried and trusted tested syllabus and road safety and maintenance and road signs and all these things…so that the license really means something. By the time they get to the end of their training, after three days or four days with us, they’re then entitled to get a certificate to cash in for a license. So then they’re getting that certificate so they can get a license, but they’re also really much safer. So that’s something that we really want to do.

Jim: Why motorcycles? I mean, you know, if motorcycles are such a problem, why not just vehicles? I should say 4-wheeled vehicles.

Claire: Maybe…you know what. I guess the thing is, the motorcycles here are so prolific you know, its the thing that the masses can afford. In Tanzania it’s different in Malawi. In Tanzania its affordable to buy a motorcycle, you can buy one for five hundred dollars. And if you’re not the person, generally the motorbike taxi drivers don’t own them, they rent them from someone else, but they’re accessible to everybody. So if you’re talking about what makes a difference to the masses of people particularly in the lower income brackets, its motorcycles. Most people don’t have the luxury of affording to pay for a taxi or a car. So this issue with the motorcycles is a much much bigger problem than cars. I mean, if you look at the crash statistics, most people involved in crashes are either in buses (for all sorts of reasons that sort of crash rate is very very high, and high impact) but then it is people on two feet and two wheels who are then also suffering a very large proportion of the crashes. So and in Tanzania it is generally not bicycles as generally motorcycles. So that is kind of the biggest demographic of where those road traffic accidents are coming from. Now, this is something that really shocked me as well, I remember seeing a graph somewhere which showed you that over the next…well, this was two years ago. It was showing the trajectory of malaria deaths (which are thankfully now largely under control in a lot of developing countries), deaths from HIV (which thankfully now are on the decline), and then road traffic deaths which are totally overtaking both of those things. If you look at the number of programs and interventions that have tried to tackle malaria and HIV theres loads, and quite rightly and they’ve had an impact, but road traffic accidents are totally getting left behind. In most developing countries, definitely Tanzania, it’s all about the motorcycles. So, yeah. I mean, cars do come in, but generally it's very few people that can afford to be in a car. So for the masses, we're talking about motorcycles.

Jim: Is life better in Mwanza now, statistically, because of your program?

Claire: I would actually say, not yet, no. Because most of our work, certainly last year (the boda boda training work and the community work), was actually in other places because the mines were saying I need to come to Mali, I need to come to Ivory Coast. So we know that where we worked, for example in the Congo, we heard the same thing. But it was just so much more severe in the Congo. They were having so many crashes and they were so devastating. And we know that…I mean, we trained 600 motorbike taxi drivers and passengers as well in that community, in two weeks. And we've heard that the crash rate has really gone down in that community, which is the best news ever, because those were great people. They were largely illiterate. They had such tough living conditions. I thought, if you can just make an impact on that one thing, it does make a big difference. So that was just the best news hearing that that's happened. It's got to be sustained but that is great. And Mwanza itself…we haven’t really done that much with the motorbike taxi drivers yet. [That’s] because we're also trying to get some funding together to run this boda boda training scheme. But I think if we had this conversation again in a year's time, I really hope to be able to say…because we're planning it and we've got a few things lined up…that we've trained hopefully something like 5000 motorbike taxi drivers in Mwanza region and also Gata region. We’ve by that point been running our motorbike ambulance service for a year. We will have done…looks like something like nearly 1000 ride outs for labouring mothers, newborn babies who are struggling, and other people who have healthcare emergencies that desperately need reliable and urgent transport to hospital. So I think by that point, it's been largely a year of set up for that motorbike ambulance service, but we're really very nearly there. There's every reason to think that we'll be able to say that. Which is really exciting, I mean it's quite a mountain to climb, but it's really exciting.

Jim: Claire, where do you see your future going with all of this? I mean, is this going to be something you can sustain for the rest of your life? Have you thought about that?

Claire: That’s a really interesting question. I probably am chunking it down into like, five year blocks I guess. I have to say that last year things grew and took off in a way that I could never have imagined. I can't imagine I'm going to be doing anything different for the next five years. Put it that way. Ultimately there's no reason why I have to be necessarily in charge of Pikilily, or running it, because actually none of what I do is rocket science. I would love to ultimately find some Tanzanians in Tanzania to run it, but I can absolutely see the need to expand into other countries. We've already got incoming demand from many parts of the continent. But we had a really brilliant volunteer last year. He's British, but his family is from Thailand. He said, you think this is bad? Come and check out what’s going on on the motorbikes in a lot of Asia. You know, I can totally see that given that this is now one of the biggest killers worldwide and in developing countries. Road traffic accidents and 42 percent are coming from people on two feet and two wheels. This is a huge issue and it just isn't being addressed.

Jim: Hang on. Stop right there. Hang on. You just said motorcycles are the biggest killer. Repeat that again, please.

Claire: So yeah, it's a big one. So road traffic accidents are now the biggest cause of death, or one of the biggest cause of death, in the developing world. So like I say, malaria- not so much of a big issue. It's there. I'm not denying it's there, but it's under control it's on the wane. HIV- similarly. Road traffic deaths- out of control. And there's all sorts of reasons…the rate at which roads are now being tarmacked, and therefore the traffic gets quicker, is going up. Because investment from Chinese and whatever else. The people's ability to own motorized vehicles is going up. The ability of governments to enforce its road safety measures…it’s the last thing that governments tend to think about. So you're seeing an issue where there are more vehicles on the road, the roads are faster, and people aren't able to manage that. So it’s actually now a leading cause of death in developing countries across the world. Road traffic accidents as a whole. So whether it's in buses, trucks, cars, motorbikes…but 42 percent of those are people on two feet. So pedestrians, and two wheels bicycles, and motorbikes. But motorbikes is a huge chunk of that. So it's not just east Africa. It's the developing world. It's terrifying.

Jim: Of course, that's the most vulnerable too; the people who are walking, or on bicycles and motorcycles. That's the vulnerable part of the population when it comes to transport.

Claire: This is it. And you know, if you're not wearing a helmet, the chance of having a serious life altering head injury or death is 70 percent. You're so vulnerable, and it's not to say that you should be afraid and never use it…but like you say, you've got to have a chance of training and being smarter and having the right kit and the whole thing. So I don't see this problem, sadly, being cured in the next five years. I just don't think it's going to happen. I think the reaction has been too slow. So I can definitely see that we're going to be chipping away at this for quite a long time. Also this issue of rural health transportation…it's a huge problem and Tanzania is not the only problem [or] the only country with issues of maternal mortality or a lack of rural transportation. So I think we could be busy for quite a long time. Which is interesting, and is a good challenge. But yeah- I don't see us being packed up in a year, no.

Jim: Well in the western world, where we're comparatively very rich- all of us- what can we do to assist with what you're doing?

Claire: Oh good question. One of the things is…I mean it varies completely. Even spreading the word, liking our Facebook page which is literally just /pikilily. If people out there have magazines, newspapers, whatever they want to write an article, whatever…that that helps us get the word out. But ultimately the two biggest factors, the constraining our ability to grow what we do and make an impact on more people, is money, and kind of one thing that goes hand in hand with that is really, human resources. So we have some specific vacancies right now for jobs that we need doing, which actually require people to volunteer their time largely. We can provide board and lodging, but that's kind of it…for maybe even six months, and to fulfill a specific job, and hopefully after that train a local person to then replace them. But that would be an incredible step for us to be able to grow our work, be able to bring in some more income to be able to then sustain everything. But without having to desperately find the money for an actual salary that we don't really have the money for in the meantime. So if there's people out there that think, hey, I could be interested in joining that team as a volunteer. Maybe I can give up three or six months of my time. Let us know because we really are looking- we've got specific job descriptions out for people. We would so appreciate the help. Because that will enable us to transform what we're doing, and also give me the chance to go after some other opportunity so that we can grow our work. Without that, we're a little bit stuck at the moment, with the scale of what we're doing…which isn't really…I mean, we could just be doing so much more if we just had a bit more capacity. So if people…similarly, I mean if people out there do you know of…maybe they work for a company and they have a really great corporate giving scheme or they’re interested in investing or donating to projects like this in developing countries- then please let us know. That's always fantastic. Or if people out there work for even a social impact fund that might be interested. It's possible. Then again- we would absolutely love to hear about it. So those are the big things really. But simply- spreading the word. We love that. And just showing some support that way, it means a lot to us. So all kinds of ways.

Jim: Claire, it was a real pleasure getting to know about you and Pikilily. Thanks very much for coming on.

Claire: Thank you Jim. It's been  absolutely amazing. Thank you for this chance.

Jim (Narrate): I’ve been speaking with Claire Elsdon from her new home in Tanzania. You can find out more about what she's doing with Pikilily by dropping by their website

Jim (Narrate): Coming up next we've got Graham Field who’s at Pikalily in Tanzania, volunteering for a couple of weeks. Stay with us.


Jim: Graham, where are you?

Graham: I’m in Tanzania, right in the very north. A place called Mwanza, which is right on the banks of Lake Victoria which if you look at a map of Africa is the big watery spot, and is also the source of the Nile. So yeah that's where I am, north Tanzania.

Jim: Source of the Nile, nice. And there's like three countries there or more that borders Lake Victoria. It's a big, big lake.

Graham: Yeah. Kenya and…oh, my geography of Africa is appalling. I'm getting a little bit better being here, but any other continent on the planet, I’m pretty good. But yeah, not Africa.

Jim: That's okay. Afterwords what we'll do is, we'll get you to say a country and then I'll just throw it in there. I'll just cut it and split it, and throw the word in there. But what you're really doing is, you're down there to help Pikilily.

Graham: Well yeah, I’ve known Claire for maybe five years. Met at various bike shows and presentations. And she does these video updates, which I've watched on YouTube of the whole Pikilily thing, and what’s goes on. Last winter I sort of thought, near the beginning go the winter, I thought, you know I’d really like to go and see if I can do anything helpful. Anyway long story short, there was a really cheap flight, significantly cheaper than all the other flights, and so I booked it. I gave her about 4 days notice. And I really knew nothing. It was quite insane because I just didn't know on any level anything about what I was about to experience in country, in culture, in climate, and in Pikilily. So I- get this- listen to Adventure Rider Radio, probably listen to  RAW where we give travel advice. What I had to do, I land in Dar es Saalem. Dar es Saalem. Yeah. Which is like the main, not the capital, but still the main city. Then [I] had to get a little flight out to Mwanza. I had the whole day, I had twelve hours to kill. Claire said, would you meet a friend of mine who's going to give you a package to bring up because it’s very expensive to put it on the bus. The post doesn't really work. So I met this guy, never met before in my life, to pick up a plastic bag and put it in my backpack.

Jim: I can hear your mum’s voice screaming in your head; Graham, don't take a package from a stranger!

Graham: I could hear my own voice, Grant's voice, everybody's voice. You just don’t do that. So I met the guy, and we contacted by WhatsApp, and I met the guy and he's got this plastic bag all wrapped up. And I said, so it’s just drugs and arms, right? He said, no that’s not what's in it. Anyway so I start putting my backpack, I haven’t got any spare time to catch my flight. He said, you're not going to check it? I said, well no. I said, I have to trust you. What else am I going to do? Just open the bag and say oh you know, this coke doesn't look pure? But it was so…no one stopped me, and it was fine. It turned out it did actually have medical supplies in it. Among other things. So anyway. So having taken this package and not been arrested. So I get to Mwanza, and get to see what's going on at Pikilily. The workshop is beautiful, it's a purpose built workshop, which was crowdfunded. I mean, I didn't really know what I could do but I just sort of…and I wasn’t being big headed about it. It’s like, stand aside, I’ll fix this- it was nothing like that. It was just- in fact complete opposite. It's like you know we don't want [a] white man coming here and saying, well let me fix this for you, let me do this. So they had some tool boards and I make some tool boards. I've put a light up, got the bathroom door to close, and little things. But the big thing I'm seeing is how Claire is just pulled in every direction. Because she’s…it’s almost a one woman band. And unfortunately the direction she's been pulled in, and not in the productive directions…this government want this doing, and this tax office needs doing, these contracts need signing, and you need this machine. She's just running around trying to get all this stuff done and you can see that there is progress, but in a very frustrating way. So it’s…you know, the newcomer wide eyed…can't see the wood from the trees and kind of see what's going on. I could see the infuriation of just dealing with this stuff in a foreign country.

Jim: Is some of that though, the thing of arriving in Africa and sort of getting the feel for the rhythm of the society there, in different parts of Africa? Because we hear it a lot, you know sort of that you learn patience, you learn that things don't happen everyday, and you can't expect it to happen when you think it's going to happen. Is that a part of it?

Graham: Definitely. You’ve got to realize, it's a different culture. They have different priorities. And what we would do in the west, isn't necessarily what they would do. It's not wrong or it's not right, it’s just different, and you have to dance to the beat of their drum. Because otherwise you're just going to get frustrated, and you have got to have patience. But at the same time, so should they, to a degree. Because, you don't know the system, and you're not out to rip anybody off, particularly in the case of Pikilily. You are out to help people. To help train riders, to help employ locals, to help fix motorcycles…and you are there for the good of the {?}, but the government offices will not accept that. They will not. It's not that they're going to give you a little bit of leniency because you’re an organization of good…it’s just, this needs paying out, this needs doing…what? You told us that we didn't have to do this until we made a certain amount money. Well, you need to do now. So drop everything. You have to go to this office to sort out this problem now. So, you know, they don't have patience.

Jim:  And all that draws from the time that Claire has to do the other things that she's supposed to be doing, or that she wants to do.

Graham: I think that I have arrived at one of the most stressful weeks in the history of Pikilily. I said to her, if you ever write a book about this, could I write the forward? Because what I've seen is the directions you're being pulled in, and everything else you're having to deal with. If you can get through this week, you can get through anything, because you really are suffering.

Jim: So what she really needs is to two things: Volunteers would be fantastic. Anybody who's looking to, who has time, wants to work for a good cause…and then of course, money influx. Anybody who's got spare cash (so to speak) to put towards a good cause. Again, because it's going to change people's lives, isn't it?

Graham: It does. Everybody wins, and this is a wonderful organization that doesn't trample anybody’s feet. For an example, so yes, there have been donations of tools and everything. So you know, I saw everything that went on the tool board. So we got all our spanners [and] our wrenches lined up, and now cross-hair screwdrivers. And that's a little bit of structure there. Which of course, saves a lot of time when you work on a bike, you’re not putting around. But I had to put a light up over the desk. Relatively straightforward job. The drill we've got has an Australian plug on it because it was donated from Australia, so that was bodged in to a Tanzanian contact socket. And so every time I put a pull on it, it comes apart and it doesn't work. And every aspect of the job you try and do…I get a long life light bulb, and it turns out it’s a screw fit, but the actual light fitting is a binding fit. Everything takes time. And then when I finally got it all down, got the contacts in, got the pull switch on, it all there, finally got the light bulb…there was an electricity cut. This is a relatively simple job, but with the tools you have in the environment you’re working in…it’s just, nothing is easy. Nothing flows. So. Yeah. I had a little…this morning I was thinking, oh I feel like, you know, as a guest…Claire has done so much as is a host, and I don't really feel like I'm doing that much. And I said, Claire, is there anything else I should be doing? I said, I'm not doing that much hands on. She said, listen, you might have come with the expectations of working on motorcycles, but what you’re actually do is offering moral support, and guidance, and advice, and someone to vent at…and that's a very important part of your job description right now. So anything you can do.

Jim: So you’re not working on bikes. Or have you worked on bikes?

Graham: I have worked on bikes. They’ve got this appalling KLX which I volunteered to do some work on. And the problem is obviously carburation, I pulled the carb apart and it's just like one of these bikes…you start to take off the side panels that are wired together and a seat and a tank that’s velcroed on…and you finally gets the carburetor out, and you see that both jets have been mangled with vice grips…and you're trying to poke a little bit of broken clutch cable wire through a jet to unblock it…And you think; this is not the ideal environment. In any other circumstance you’d just say ditch it, but it's not what you do you here. Improvise and use ingenuity to get the thing to work. So six hours- oh and there was a total power cut yesterday- so six hours in, I got the choice of being under the burning sun or in a dark workshop to try and work on this thing. It was a year ago that day when I'd had my broken back bolted back together. I was kicking over a bike relentlessly trying to start it. I was kind of symbolic, but at least I have the ability to kick over a bike now. Unfortunately not the ability to start the bloody thing. But I didn’t lose too much sleep over it last night. Instead of using optimism I used realism and found an actual cause for the problem. So we got to do now is get some car cleaner and fix it. So yeah, to answer your question; I have been doing a little bit of work on bikes. I suppose I’m filling my days. I might be of some use to her. But yes, definitely volunteers because anything…and even you don't have to be mechanically minded. There are grants which are openly available to Pikilily, but it just takes the time to plan for these grants. There are so many different aspects of help that could be used, and of course money. But it's not just like, give me your money. There are training that needs to be done. There’s… an okay tool supply, but you could always use a few more things. Like, I wanted to blow out the carb. I know that they got compressor, brilliant. But it turns out that the tire pressure gauge has been taped, or the tire pump has been taped, to the hose. It's like you could really use a better way of changing your various spray guns and stuff onto it. So. I mean, it's not less like, oh you know, send us 20 pounds or 20 dollars on PayPal. You could- I’m sure Claire’s already told you about the website- you can genuinely look at what they do, where the money goes. And the great thing about it is, the money goes straight to the people. It's not going through a bunch of admin and bureaucracy, it's actually being used hands on. You can see, and you will see, on the YouTube updates where it's going. I did play with this. I thought well, the money I spent on a flight, should I have just sent them that? I thought, well no, because I want to see what's going on. And when you do, you become even more passionate about it, and you feel even more part of it. When I'm talking about future stuff, and we’re having our little brainstorm sessions, I find myself saying we instead of you because I already feel a part of Pikilily. Might be a bit presumptuous on my part, but it's great. It's great to feel that you are doing something, however little it is.

Jim: When you just say grants, is it something that somebody could do from another country, like through the Internet?

Graham: Totally. And this is…we were discussing maybe we should do…There are people who specifically apply for grants (they’re called called grant writers) but there are also…anybody can do it of course, because it is…very social impact organizations who are there with a budget which Claire’s organization is entitled to. So yes, you could get in touch with Claire, with Pikilily, and there are lots of things you can do with the beauty of the Internet from wherever you are, and to lighten her load. It would genuinely genuinely lighten her load. So yeah, you don't have to come all the way to Mwanza and sit under a mosquito net, like I am, talking to you. You can do it from home.

Jim: How long are you there for?

Graham: I’ve got about another week. Something like that. Yes, I might get that carb fixed in that time.

Jim: So is it making the impression on you as a place that you want to go back to? Is Tanzania sort of going to be a tourist destination for you?

Graham: Ask me when I've seen something. All I've seen is the workshop and the supermarkets. I never been to the country since I was little, but it was not about being a sightsee-er, or being a tourist. Having said that, I might spend a few days in Zanzibar before I leave. But the people are wonderful. The smiles are huge. They have a very prolonged welcoming system; Hello. How are you? How are your parents? How was your day? How is your morning? So if you actually want to say, have you got the keys? It doesn't work like that. You have to go through this prolonged gratitudes. I have been lucky enough to meet several locals who have all been so welcoming. I think I’ve learned five words in Swahili so far. So definitely, for the people alone, they all seem lovely and I feel so welcome. But yeah, it would be nice to perhaps see the Serengeti or Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar or Lake Tanganyika. But you know, just getting the carb fixed for now will be plenty.

Jim: What’s the five words?

Graham: ‘Hello’ is ‘hujambo’, ‘welcome’ is ‘karibu’- everybody says karibu/welcome. ‘Wewe’ is ‘you’. Got loads of different connotations. So little kids you know, trying to beg for money, it’s like wewe. You bugger. But it’s very much the way you do it. ‘Kwaheri’ is ‘goodbye’. ‘Sorry’, which I seem to say a lot is, ‘pole’. What was the other one? Well, there you go. That’s something I’m going home with.

Jim: That’s pretty impressive. I thought I would have caught you there. I thought you were going to tell me you couldn't remember. So I’m impressed already. Well Graham, you have a great time. I hope you pick up more of the language while you're there, for the rest of the days that you’re there, and I’ll talk to you later.

Graham: Okay, nice one, Jim. See ya.

Jim: And of course that was Graham Field from Pikilily headquarters in Tanzania, Africa.


Interviewer/Host: Jim Martin
Producer: Elizabeth Martin
Transcriptionist: Natasha Martin
*Special thanks to our guests: Claire Elsdon & Graham Field

This episode of Adventure Rider Radio is made possible by the following SHOW SPONSORS. Please support ARR by supporting our sponsors.

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