For the past week the riders who will be participating in the 2013 Tour d’Afrique have been gathering at the Cataract Pyramids Resort just outside Cairo. It is a large, rather isolated place. You could live inside its walls and never leave. In a way it reminds me of the Swiss Sanatorium in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, with its microcosm of society, and its own culture, relationships and routines.
It seems a fitting place then to gather. The more than 50 riders and a dozen TdA staff will spend the next four months closely bound together. The resort has been our incubator. Over the past week it has seen our society and unique culture begin to develop. And, as in the Magic Mountain, that culture and society are being shaped by a common set of interests and concerns – not TB, but something almost as foreboding. It’s not all massages, fizzy drinks and sweet cakes. We know shit will happen.
The risk is that we use our bubble as insulation. This happens all over Africa in expat communities, which become ingrown and inward looking. We will, in effect, be a mobile expat community. There is no avoiding it. We travel as a group. We all wear neon-coloured lycra. We ride bikes that cost more than the annual income of many people we will meet. We speak different languages.
The challenge will be to use our community as a platform to connect rather than disconnect. We need to break out of the sanatorium.