When I move somewhere for a longer period of time, one of the first things I usually do is get myself a bicycle. Nothing says ‘home’ to me as much as having a two-wheeler at my disposal, a means of transportation that makes me feel free to go anywhere I want to. In New York City, I took over a little gray All Terrain Bike that was slightly too small for me. It cost me $25 as I picked it up from Spanish Harlem with a flat tire. It was the lock that emptied my wallet; four times more expensive than the bike itself.
For one year, that bike and me were inseparable. I rode it to class, I rode it to visit the boroughs, and I rode it during the demonstrations at the Democratic Convention (2004) when suddenly the police blocked all the roads and made lower Manhattan a no-go zone for cyclists. My roommates didn’t quite understand that my bicycle was my mode of transport rather than a work-out accessory, and they also had difficulty grasping the concept of biking in a skirt. (I dare to state that any Dutch woman knows how to ride wearing a skirt, but they didn’t know that, so to them I was merely eccentric.)
The bike as a way to get around in the city also proved hard to explain in Beirut. The mountain-bike I bought in early 2006 was used maybe three times until I started realizing that it was not appreciated if I showed up somewhere drenched in sweat (inevitable, in Lebanese summer and traffic). I also became aware of the attraction me and my bicycle formed when a complete stranger asked me one day if I would like to join their bike-for-peace ride – I was the local ‘bike-girl’, after all. Until a month ago, when a Syrian worker in Hamra became the happy new owner, the yellow & blue bicycle has been gathering dust on our rooftop terrace.
Now I am back in the Netherlands, back to bicycle country. It took me two weeks, but my old bike is restored to its former glory and I just rode it to my parents’ house in the village. I had almost forgotten how good it feels – the speed, the wind, the freedom. I had also forgotten that in this country, rain is inevitable. And that rain + bike = wet. I came back home with puddles in my shoes, dripping hair and all the clothes on my body completely soaked with water.
But I loved the ride, because it reminded me of That Moment: the moment you realize that no matter how fast you go, no matter how hard you push those pedals, there is no way you will arrive to your destination in a presentable manner. You KNOW you will be drenched, soaked, dripping wet; you KNOW that turning around won’t help you, nor will finding shelter because you KNOW the rain won’t let up for the foreseeable future. So all you can do is throw your head in the wind and enjoy the freshness of the rain… and the hot cup of tea next to the heater when you get there.