This week a blind cyclist will start pedaling all the way from Cairo to Cape Town as a UN-HABITAT goodwill ambassador: “The message I want to tell all those in pain and suffering is that it is possible to pick up the pieces and start life afresh.”
Coming from Douglas Sidialo this is in fact a passionate statement. Before 7 August 1998, Sidialo was an ambitious salesman with a Nairobi firm who had his vision of the future well cut out. However, that Friday morning everything changed, thanks to the terrorist attack at the United States embassy in downtown Nairobi. Sidialo who was driving by when the bombing occurred was blinded for life in the bombing.
The 37-year-old father of two girls overcame the gloom that pervaded those early days after the bomb attack and with time has become a leading voice for the disabled.
And now in his endeavour to help highlight the plight of those in distress, Sidialo is embarking on an undertaking that can intimidate any able bodied person – a gruelling 12,000 kilometer ride all the way down Africa from Cairo to the Cape.
Known as Tour d’Afrique, the test of man and machine will wind its way over a period of 120 days across some of the roughest terrains in the world to end up in Cape Town.
The Tour d'Afrique is also one of the longest bicycle races in the world. The race that was founded by Henry Gold and Michael de Jong of Canada uses the stage race format (100 stages varying from 40km to 180km) with 20 rest days.
In 2003 Tour d'Afrique set a Guinness World Record for fastest crossing of Africa by bicycle and this was achieved by nine participants of the race.
Sidialo says he is well prepared for the challenging ride both mentally and physically and he is poised to be the first ever blind athlete to attempt this tough race.
On his blindness, Sidialo says the lowest point of his life was when he relised that he was not going to use his eyes again. However, the doctors kept on promising him that he would soon regain his sight, which is yet to be.
He says he had a choice – to wallow in misery or to accept the situation and move on. “I know how difficult it is to accept situation like this. I have learnt through my healing that mourning, anger, bitterness and denial is very normal. But, over the course of time, victims have to accept the reality of their life, regardless of the horrible circumstances. Bitterness retards healing and acceptance is the only way to deal with it,” Sidialo says.
Sidialo is believed to be the first blind man in Africa to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, a feat he achieved in 2005.
Late last year, Sidialo met UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka who was impressed by his determination. The Executive Director who herself attempted Mount Kilimanjaro climb in her youth, was particularly impressed by Sidialo’s active outdoor life even after losing his sight.
Consequently, she agreed to have Sidialo be the UN-HABITAT goodwill ambassador for this year’s tour. He will help highlight the work of the agency and its work aimed at making cities around the world safer places for their residents.
UN-HABITAT has committed a donation of US dollars 5,000 to Sidialo’s participation.