The Rickshaw Challenge is over, it’s fair to say that none of the 20 man crew were at all prepared for the difficulties it would present, and we’ll never fully understand how much work the dedicated organisers, staff and volunteers put in to a) set the whole thing up and b) deal with the endless problems that Bangladesh throws your way whenever you do anything.
Day zero had us rebuilding the rickshaws, none of them worked properly, chains slipped, snapped, things fell off, weren’t attached or were misaligned. With nothing more than a shifter, a hammer, a nail and a nut, chains were shortened, gears removed, bits were bent and beaten into submission. Axels were welded, using a transformer held between a couple of blocks of wood and a set of jumper leads. It was becoming evident that your average rickshaw was more like a tin shack your grandpa built up the back of the farm with scrap he found at the tip, than a vehicle made for transportation.
On day one of riding our rickshaws went through a troubling adolescence, they threw tantrums left right and centre as they grew into their new life as the iconic people mover. We were, of course, throwing tantrums left right and centre too, constantly battling our rickety steeds to take that next step. By the end of the day man and machine were broken. I would describe the experience as not like riding a bike, but more like climbing a rickety old staircase with a heavy backpack. If each step was on a different angle, would possible break underneath you and went on forever.
To everyone’s surprise, after a little rest and some ‘minor’ repairs, things were much easier, our rickshaws had grown into their bearings and we were growing stronger with every hammer strike. We adapted to the ever changing quirks of our rickshaws, whether it was a seat that was more like swivel chair, bent peddles, slipping chains or a tendency to direct you into the nearest ditch.
Behind the physical challenge the political world of Bangladesh continued to boil, protests passed us chanting slogans, nationwide strikes were called as competing groups fought over the lives of war criminals(who are also hardline political leaders). We left early, changed routs, called in additional police escorts and ducked into gated grounds to avoid trouble. Thanks to the great work of our support team we were always safe, if not a little nervous.
Along the way we passed villages, ate lunch in schools, stopped for much needed coconuts and tea. In Bangladesh there are almost no foreigners, the sound of someone yelling be-deshe!(foreigner) was like a backing track for our ride. Children and grownups alike stopped what they were doing and ran to see the spectacle as we slowly crawled across the country. People smiled and waved from across rice paddies, army barracks responded to our hello’s in a unified chorus, while groups of women giggled at us sweating our way past. We made it onto the front pages and into the national news, by the end of the trip people were no longer shouting be-deshi but Tiger and Rickshaw, they knew who we were, and what we were up to.
It’s all over now, it was a true challenge for all. The organisers had to deal with so much; the constantly changing political landscape, logistics in a country where reservation or ferry timetables mean nothing (one hotel warned us in advance that we may not be able to stay if the king of Bhutan turned up, thankfully he didn’t) and twenty broken people need fuelling for the next day. We were ecstatic if our machines held together long enough to make it through the day where they could receive their nightly repairs. As for ourselves, mild heat stroke, aching limbs and roads of crushed brick were a constant physical and mental obstacle. Everyone made it across the finish line it was a gruelling, but immensely rewarding experience.
Thanks to all those who donated, along with your money we’ve raised the profile of Tigers in Bangladesh on a national level, and through that sexy medium the Environment in general, an area which is sorely neglected here. If you haven’t donated yet please do, the work these guys do goes far beyond tigers. It’s one of the most effective and stable organisations I have seen so far. It’s a part of the communities and it’s here for keeps, not for short term funding periods.