The Guardian (Charlottetown)
The Province,
Thursday, May 26, 2005, p. A4

Townships Project loans another way of drafting

MacKay, Mary

Everybody needs a break now and again.

And I knew I was at my need-a-break point halfway through the last 60-plus-kilometre leg on the fourth day of the Tip to Tip for Africa fundraiser, which was in aid of the Townships Project to provide small loans for people in need in South Africa.

"Get into the draft, Mary," said the lead of a trio of bikers who were tucked in a neat Canada geese-like line that blew by me so fast they actually created a wind force of their own against the unceasing easterly gale.

My first thought was: "Gee thanks, but I'm a wine person " because until recently, when I heard the term 'drafting' I considered it a bartending verb for drawing a bubbly, hopped-up beverage from a pub keg.

Instead, I've deduced it's a means of dodging the wind by following in close proximity to another moving object, in this case a cyclist. While I appreciated the thought of their offer, drafting those three would have be like the tortoise (me) drafting a hyper harem of hares (them).

A half-hour later I wasn't surprised when the crunching of gravel signalled the passing of even more cyclists. After all, following in my wake was like drafting a tree.

"You can draft us," Aravinda and Jasmin Maheshwari said in tandem as they jointly pedalled their single bike at a pace I could almost match. I breathed a sigh of windbreak relief as I learned the couple met in Aravinda's home country of India in 1985. However, Jasmin, who is originally from Switzerland, has been living in South Africa for the past 12 years.

They learned about the Tip to Tip for Africa through a story in The Guardian. Fortunately the fundraiser dates coincided with Jasmin's stay in Charlottetown.

"There was no question of not doing it, although we had no training and no bike," Jasmin said.

"When we were in India we were cycling quite a lot," Aravinda said.

"It was a mode of transportation we used where we lived, not as a hobby or pastime."

While the kind of weather the Tip to Tip for Africa cyclists had endured is unusual for P.E.I. in late May, Jasmin said it is not unusual for this time of the year in South Africa where in the rainy, windy, winter season, temperatures can drop to 0 C.

"There's practically no heating the houses (in the townships) and you can imagine all the roofs start leaking," she said. "People have very inadequate housing and very often townships get flooded."

Another constant danger is shack fires that erupt when paraffin heaters overturn or malfunction. Because the shacks are back-to-back, hundreds of homes, and sometimes lives, are lost as the result of each fire.

"People lose everything and that happens every winter," Jasmin said. "So (our experience on the trail) seems to be a little bit of a taste of what people go through there on a daily basis."

Throughout the Tip to Tip for Africa adventure, people, organizations and businesses have helped along the way, Aravinda said.

"The way that we were helped so often and the way we were taken care of on this trip perhaps is what happens through this Townships Project for those people. Somebody is going to be helping them out. "So we experienced a little bit, not only the rough times they have, but also the help that they receive."

In a way, the Townships Project loans are another form of drafting. They provide a break from the strong cycle of poverty so the people can catch their breath, then move forward with a new strength toward a goal of self-sustaining independence.

As the last of the cyclists crossed the Confederation Trail finish in Elmira and caught their breath, it was time for the big finale.

"We'll all do it as a group," directed Tip to Tip for Africa organizer Martha Deacon.

In response, the speedy and the slow merged to move as one unit toward the East Point Lighthouse and the end of the ride.

Even though barely a handful completed the lighthouse-to-lighthouse distance in its entirety, Deacon said that with help from P.E.I.'s community organizations and businesses, the cyclists had accomplished something more than just going distance.

"We raised more than $17,500 for the Townships Project in South Africa which will change the lives of at least 350 individuals - forever," she said.


Illustration(s):

MacKay, Mary
As the only tandem bike team in the
Tip to Tip for Africa fundraising ride across P.E.I., Aravinda and Jasmin Maheshwari, who call Charlottetown, South Africa and India home, were one of a kind.


Category: News
Uniform subject(s): Sports and leisure
Length: Medium, 606 words

2005 The Guardian (Charlottetown). All rights reserved.