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Provided By: Muslim Harji

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Travel Log - From Cairo to Cape Town


Final Pedal for Hope email


May 24, 2006 3:12:53 AM

Dear friends and family,

Well I’m sorry to let the cat out of the bag but for those of you who didn’t already know, we’re home! We’ve spent the last couple of days in hiding, pretty much sleeping, decompressing and reflecting on the amazing experience we have just lived. I have to apologize for taking a while to write you this final email but I’ve been very selfish with my time, doing things that have been waiting since before I left and meeting my family. Sadly, I thought that when I left the world would grind to a halt and that I could pick up everything exactly where I left it four months later but I have come to realize that it is definitely not so. People have passed away, babies have
been born, circumstances have changed; life has continued at its same constant pace and I’m fighting to re-adjust.

The weekend before I arrived home from Cape Town, while we were still on the road, anxiously counting down the days until we arrived at the Finish line, Mount Allison University, my alma mater, celebrated Convocation. This is the graduation ceremony that takes place every year and this year, I graduated (in absentia) along with hundreds of other students. I remember being in Springbok, South Africa, thinking about my graduation and how I was thousands of miles away, missing the ceremony that would bring my time at Mount Allison to an end. It’s funny, but now, as I think back to the myriad of experiences that I have lived through in these past four months, I believe I can safely say that one of, if not the most, important parts of my education so far in life took place after I left Mt. A in December. This trip has changed me: the people I have met, the incidents I have witnessed, the alternate universe I was allowed to step in to, if only for a brief time, have taught me life
lessons that have altered the person I was irrevocably.
We arrived in Cape Town on one of the foggiest days I have ever seen. The air was so thick with condensation that our clothes were covered in droplets of water, almost as if it had been raining. The fog that hung over Cape Town was so heavy that we couldn’t see the Atlantic Ocean, although we were biking along the coastline. It was sort of like biking in the dark because we really couldn’t see very much of the city we were entering. The riders were simultaneously nervous and excited, happy and sad, looking forward to the Tour’s conclusion but also gloomy that it was coming to an end. It is hard to fathom how so many contrary emotions could be running through us at the same time. About 20 kilometers before we crossed the finish line, we had our last moments together as a group before we were joined by media and a handful of other riders who had come to join us in our final stretch. For me, the last leg was surreal. I couldn’t stop smiling but I knew that something really important was coming to an end. Finally, when it began to feel like the last 20 kilometers couldn’t be stretched out any longer, the finish line came into view. When I saw it, I actually slowed down, as if pedaling slower would make the Tour D’Afrique last longer. Seeing the Finish banner brought a certain sad finality to the Tour and it was a bittersweet moment for me. As we crossed the line, people were cheering and clapping and holding up signs and flowers. We were showered in champagne and a band played African drums for our arrival. It was completely chaotic: people were hugging each other, crying and screaming for joy, everyone reacting in their own way to the end of this overwhelming expedition. To our great surprise, there were Ismailis from Cape Town at the Finish line there to greet us. They brought us flowers and made a beautiful poster welcoming us to Cape Town. It was wonderful to have someone there for us to share that moment with us. The day of our arrival in the Cape will remain a blur in my mind because there were so many things going on. Even though we were done, there was still so much going on – banquets, packing, goodbyes etc.- and still so much to do. It was a triumphant day that brought an amazing adventure to its end.
It’s clichéd to say that Tour D’Afrique will remain with me forever, but it’s a cliché that honestly rings true. This experience has taught me things that you can’t be taught in school and things that you really need to become conscious of on your own. The presence of Ismailis at the Finish reinforced one of the facts that I have come to realize over these last four months. All along this trip, I have been completely amazed by the continuous support and hospitality of Ismailis. When I have least expected it, people from my own community have come out to show that they are behind us in this endeavour, and bearing witness to the beauty of the fraternity that I belong to has been one of the most important lessons for me.

Beyond the Ismaili brotherhood, I have also felt the kindness of complete strangers. If I compare the way I was treated with the way that these people would be treated if they came to Canada (for example, a Sudanese Muslim), it’s incredible to realize just how stark the contrast would be. People all throughout our expedition were naturally friendly, not motivated by personal gain or underlying agendas, and actually took the time to greet us and learn about what we were doing. I find that here, we have no time for anyone but ourselves, we are constantly weary of people and things that we don’t know, we are never satisfied with what we have and our focus is a lot more individualistic, constantly centered on self preservation above all other things. My experiences in Africa have really made me envious of the lifestyles, outlooks on life and general attitude of people there. It’s clear to see that we have so much to learn. Many of you who read about my experiences in Cuba will remember that upon my return, I sent a long “we-have-it-all-wrong-in-the-West” email and perhaps it will become a trend in my life to travel and gripe about how off-course we are in our lifestyles and general mentalities here but I really have seen things in other countries that we need to apply in our own lives. I wish I could expound on some of the other lessons I have learned (discipline, facing and overcoming challenges, dealing with other people, self-worth etc.)  but space is of the essence. Of course, I’m
sure the more time I reflect on these last four months, the more lessons I will glean out of my time with the Tour D’Afrique. There are so many things I would like to tell you all and share with you, but it is impossible for me to be able to do it all in this one email. It will take a lot more distance from the Tour for me to really be able to comprehend and understand the enormity of what I have just accomplished, and more likely, even longer for me to be able to verbalize it.
As for where to go from here, I have decided to employ a technique that I learned when I participated in an Outward Bound expedition several years ago. When I finished my OB expedition, I wrote a letter to myself which I mailed and received 6 months later. In the letter, I was honest with myself about my life and about things I needed to do and change. I reminded myself about things that I had learned during the trip, I outlined my plans, goals and dreams and also warned myself about all sorts of pitfalls, especially those that I had created within my own mind, that would arise along the way. This letter was sort of a way of talking to myself in the future and receiving the letter was a moment to really reflect on what I had accomplished since writing it. I think that undertaking this exercise once again now will be an excellent way for me to ensure that I don’t forget the lessons I have learned in these last four and a half months and it will allow me to gain some perspective about and direction for my future.
Although directions and decisions for the future now need to be settled, in the shorter term, I’m just going to sleep as much as possible. We have been home for about 5 days now and I still haven’t even touched my luggage! Perhaps soon, I’ll have to get on that….. but not yet for a little while! And, of course, without fail, life in Montreal has begun for me once again. I’m now trying to re-align myself with the realm of grad schools, summer jobs, family and friends. I think the adjustment will be gradual, but slow. One of the hardest things is trying to remember which side of the road to drive on (beware, I may be a hazard!).  

As I bring this email towards its conclusion, I want to thank all of you for supporting my father and I and the Pedal for Hope. Thank you for sending us emails full of positive messages, for your financial contributions, for donations that came in other forms, and really, for taking the time to stand behind us in this (I can say retrospectively) very crazy adventure. It would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for us to achieve this without the help and encouragement of each and every one of you. None of us ever imagined such an outpouring of generosity! Thanks to your efforts, Pedal for Hope was a tremendously successful campaign, not only as a fundraiser but also in terms of raising awareness about the plight of people in less-fortunate areas of the world. 100 % of your contributions went towards the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, an incredibly worthy cause, and will really help to make a difference thousands of lives. If I can make one plea to you all at this point, it would be not to let this impetus fade. This weekend, on Sunday, May 28th, if you are in the Montreal area, please come out to the Partnership Walk on Mount Royal. This is another event in support of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada and just your presence will help to build the solidarity and support needed to continue the remarkable work that they are doing. Both my father and I will also be there, and so if you want to know more about certain aspects of our trip or have questions, or just want to hear us blabber on about this trip (if you haven’t already had enough!), that will be the perfect venue to come say hello.
Once again, thank you to all of you. I hope you have enjoyed reading these emails as much as I enjoyed writing them and I look forward to speaking with you all soon individually so that we can share our experiences with you in person.
Take care,
Ayesha Harji

Crossing Tropic of Capricorn

“We were showered in champagne and a band played African drums for our arrival.”

“To our great surprise, there were Ismailis from Cape Town at the Finish line there to greet us. They brought us flowers and made a beautiful poster welcoming us to Cape Town. It was wonderful to have someone there for us to share that moment with us.”

Back Home Safe and Sound

Thank You Pedal for Hope



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