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Bicycles of Birao, Northern CAR, Are Lifelines for Survival and Status


In the northern part of the Central African Republic, in the town of Birao, which is almost completely cut off from the rest of the world during the rainy season, bicycles are taken very seriously. They may not have the Tour de France or any Olympic competition there. But bicycles are often both a matter of survival and social status. VOA's Nico Colombant watched some of the 'spinning' and has this report in this the final part of a series on challenges in the mostly lawless CAR.

A young man, Moubarak, spins his bike to make sure all is in order before a long ride home, taking back batteries and provisions from the market, in Birao, not far from Sudan's warring Darfur region.

He has had the bike for three years, and even though, one pedal is broken, he says it works well enough.

Moubarak does not own a car. Only the military and humanitarian workers seem to have cars that work here.

During the rainy season, the young man explains, as he puts more pressure in his tires, the bike actually has an advantage over everything else.

When there are huge puddles or truck-deep craters in dirt roads, he says, if you have a car you are stuck, but with a bike, you just carry it around any obstacle by foot, and off you go again.

Birao like other parts of the northern Central African Republic is almost completely cut off from the rest of the country during the rainy season.

The bike is also a status symbol.

An otherwise very discreet boy has a bike decked out with whistles, blinking lights, decorations, and bells he does not shy from showing off. He also has a full bouquet of plastic flowers gracing his handlebars.

Ali Sanyi who is admiring this bike explains when you are in the city, meaning Birao, which has a population of a few thousand, you have to look good. He says the more flowers you have on your handlebar, the richer and more powerful it means you are.

Many riders also keep the plastic which wrapped the bike when they bought it.

The local bike shop owner, Yiyah, explains the plastic also makes your bike look good, while saving its paint against mud and dust. He says the most popular brand of bike is a Chinese-made bike called the Phoenix, which he says can last 10 years.

He says the Phoenix is good for long distances, and that you can go 100 kilometers, even 1,000 kilometers at a time with it in these remote areas, even with goods strapped on the back.

The market's mechanic, Seydou, also does brisk business. He says sometimes he has too many bikes to repair and he cannot always find parts locally. So, he takes his own bike to the border region with Sudan and gets parts there.

He says he feels like an important part of the community, enabling people to keep moving for cheap cost.

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