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The Bicycle Ambulance That Wasn’t (Almost)

November 12, 2012

By Simon Chambers

When I was preparing for this trip to Africa, a whole bunch of people from my parish and from the office said “Make sure you get pictures of the bicycle ambulances!”

“No problem,” I replied.  “I’ve got several days in Mozambique to visit those projects.”

It’s now my third to last day, and I finally got to Ribaue to visit the ambulance in that community.

We had driven for over 3 hours on dirt roads that made my fillings feel like they were jumping ship.  I thought about joining them from time to time.

On the way there, we stopped at a Mothers-in-Waiting House (a place for women to come before they go into labour and rest up before delivering their babies) that had become a Mothers-in-Labour House (I’ll write more on that another time).  We also visited a support group for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Then we pulled up near the base of a mountain between two thatched-roof huts.  We got out and greeted the ladies who were preparing green mango and the older gentleman who greeted us warmly.

“Is this the bicycle ambulance?” I asked Zaida, curious.  She assured me it was.

As the man began to speak to her, she translated for me:

“Their bicycle has had some problems.  They received it in 2007, and it rode many many kilometres.  It got worn out.”

Uh oh.

What am I going to do when I get back to Canada without any pictures of a bicycle ambulance?  I knew that tomorrow we visit a training for community health workers and then visit sick people in another part of the province.

This was my one chance to get the pictures I had come to Africa for.  And it wasn’t going to happen.

But then it did.

The older gentleman delicately wheeled out a bicycle which had certainly seen better days.  The pedals were missing- just the cranks left.  The handle bars and seat were worn.  There was some rust on the body.

But then he brought out the ambulance and attached it for me.  I was able to get some pictures of this well used machine as Zaida explained.

The ambulance had been well used over the 4 years the community had it.  98 patients- half of them pregnant women, one quarter suffering from malaria, the other quarter a variety of injuries and illnesses- had traveled an average of 25km each way to the hospital.

Some quick math showed me this bicycle had put nearly 5000km onto its odometer over those years- and those km were not on easy roads!

The community has had to retire the bike, but- ever resourceful- they are keeping the ambulance.  Now if someone needs to get to the hospital or clinic, they need only provide their own bicycle and attach the ambulance to it.

So this amazing conveyance will continue to serve- hopefully many more thousands of kilometres of travel taking the sick, injured, and pregnant to the hospital more quickly than they could get on foot.

Or- given those roads- by car.

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