My Days of Anonymity Are Over

We bought a motorbike at the end of August. It is a TVS Apache, which is an Indian brand, and goes for USD 1,550. I had visited a number of dealerships to check inventories and prices. I was looking for a Japanese dirt bike - a Honda or Yamaha or Suzuki. But they are USD 4,000 and above. We thought about what the resale value might be and probably it would be quite good but we decided that it was a bit more than we wanted to spend.

So I suggested the Apache because it looked fun and sporty and got pretty good reviews on the websites that I checked. It would not be ideal for the dirt roads outside (and inside) of town but it is light enough so that you can to muscle it through a rocky patch or a sandy strip off the tarmac. Also, I saw a few of them around town but not so many that it would entirely blend in. In countries like Liberia, motorbike taxis swarm the roads like a locust. They are piloted by young men with no other job prospects and there are too many of them on the roads to make for a good living. They ride the same cheap model - here it is the Bajaj Boxer - and they will carry anything or anyone that pays a fair. I routinely see four people crammed on a Boxer, which is a very small motorbike, or a passenger carrying a television set or a mattress or a coffee table or something even heavier or more oddly shaped.

Also, they have no road etiquette. They speed through intersections, striking the klaxon repeatedly rather than slowing and looking both ways. They weave ferociously between cars (yes, I do that too...) and stop traffic to make a U-turn between intersections (no, I don’t do that); they cut cars off (I don’t do that either) and each other (nor that) and they routinely strike out into the opposing lane to pass the traffic in their own (nor especially that). They are taxi drivers, not motorcyclists.

When we went to the TVS ‘dealership’, which was a small shop that (ironically) advertised selling ‘Japanese motorcycle parts’, at first Jess wanted to get the model with purple stripes. It was less expensive than the Apache at USD 1,050 because it has a 125cc engine instead of the Apache’s 160ccs.

‘But it’s so big,’ Jess said waving a hand at the Apache.

‘They’re both pip-squeaks,’ I said, because anything less than 500ccs is that.

‘It’s heavy and it’s going to fall on me,’ she said.

‘It’s not and it won’t,’ I said. ‘Besides, when they go down, they're more like to spit you off than fall on you.’

She frowned.

‘How about this - the Apache has an electric starter,’ I said.

She saw that the purple model had only a kick starter.

So we agreed on the Apache - Jess because it has an electric starter and me because of the (slightly) larger engine and sleeker lines. Then we had to choose between the black, yellow, and red models. Jess wanted the black model.

‘If I can’t have a girly color, then I want to blend in,’ she said.

‘I don’t want you to blend in. I want everyone to see you coming and to take full notice,’ I said, citing the safety that comes from visibility on a motorcycle.

Jess naturally shies away from exhibitionism or even really from being noticed at all.

‘You like to put me on display like my dad used to when I was young,’ she said.

‘You’re my tall, blonde, beautiful girlfriend - of course I want to put you on display,’ I said.

‘I can tell my days of anonymity are over with you,’ she said, frowning.

‘Honey, your anonymity was pretty much over the day you landed in Africa,’ I said glibly but not entirely falsely.

She argued with me over color for a few minutes but I was not going to back down. This was to be the bike she would learn to ride on and I was going to have it be as safe a bike as possible.

‘Fine, I know you want the yellow, so let’s get you the yellow,’ she said, conceding.

I did want the yellow because it’s a good and flashy color and because it is a good contrast to the black engine and frame. But she knew I wanted the yellow as an homage to the BMW motorcycle that I had been planning to buy next year until I discovered that the model and sun yellow color scheme had been discontinued.

We bought the Apache. It came with a matching yellow helmet, which Jess initially refused to wear because it was ‘too flashy’. Her reaction reminded me of my grandmother who used to never wear a seatbelt when riding in a car.

‘Ma, why don’t you wear your seatbelt?’ my mother once asked.

‘It wrinkles my outfit,’ she said.

‘So you would rather be covered in blood instead of wrinkles?’ my mother said.

With Jessica I have learned that shaming often works better than reasoning. This is because she already knows your reasoning because she is smarter than you will ever be. She knows the reasoning but she has decided against it for whatever her reasons. But she knows and she knows you know and she knows you know that she is being silly and she only needs a reminder of this from you to make her think again about it. So most often a well-inflected, drawn out ‘Ohhh-kay’ and an facial gesture of ‘whatever’ is enough.

Also, Jessica - like me - has a smaller than average head - yes, for me this is only literally true while for her it is figurative and literal - so, while the motorbike was being prepped, we took a walkabout to see if we could find her a smaller helmet in another shop. We had no luck but I managed to find a well fitting pair of fake Levi’s at a Lebanese men’s clothing shop before we returned to collect the motorcycle.

20120902_16-02-06 Jess rides happy on training day 2 - Monrovia, Liberia_edited.jpg

‘She rides good for a pip-squeak,’ I said when I came back. ‘She’ll be good for you to learn on.’

‘It’s very yellow,’ Jess said as she swung her leg over the passenger seat.

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