Furtemba Sherpa has seven books of newspaper and magazines clips, letters and photos of him posing with a wide array of people from six continents and 100 countries. He carefully files each clip, which documents his mission to spread his self-styled message of peace and environmental protection. He took a break on his world journey in Monrovia, Liberia to tell me about his mission.
Furtemba is from the Shankhuwasabha region of Nepal, and migrated to the streets of Kathmandu at ten years old. He never had a formal education but fell in love with cycling at an early age. He started his own business, and after selling a motorcycle, he took to human powered movement in order to show humanity his devotion to the planet.
Ten years, six continents, 100 countries, seven bicycles, 78 flat tires and 10,200 kilometers later Furtemba’s ride around the world is in full swing and will continue until 2020 when he will have pedaled through 151 countries on this massive planet. His wife and kids back in Nepal provide a distant support system including updates to his website.
Do you think about going back to school?
My school is on my bicycle now, on the road. The world is my classroom. At the same time, I am student and teacher. I can teach the children to protect the environment, and the people can teach me about their motivations.
Are people motivated to protect the environment?
In many countries, riding a bicycle is equal to poverty. I want to change that mentality. When I left Nepal in 2003, people were beginning to turn to the bicycle as a way of transport. But we need fewer cars for bicycles to make sense. Cars gives us dirty air, bicycles give us clean air. There’s no coincidence that people who ride bicycles are healthier than people who drive cars.
How do you stay healthy on your journey?
In my ten years of riding, I’ve never been sick. Recently I got malaria, but I wasn’t riding my bicycle.
What have you discovered by pedaling through so many countries?
More than discovering places located between borders, I’ve discovered cultures and perceptions that people hold about each other and about strangers pedaling up and down their roads. It’s interesting to compare the ways I was received in North Sudan and Texas. Two very different cultures, but they each gave me the same treatment!
Maybe they are long lost cousins.
We are all related anyway, especially by our instinct to help one another. Some people told me not to go to Angola. They said this country was destroyed by civil war, that the people are desperate, and I won’t survive. It was one of the friendliest countries in Africa. In fact, the friendliest countries on my Africa ride are known for war and social conflict: North Sudan, Angola, Rwanda and Ivory Coast.
Where’s Liberia on that list?
Liberia would be next. When I entered Liberia, I noticed the families were really big! They had so many people to take care of. But they all welcomed me to the family.
There must be some unfriendly people you have met?
Humans are mostly good to each other, but I want to teach humans to be good to the environment as well. The only time I’ve been scared, really scared, was in Nigeria. Some strange and distrusting characters gave me food with drugs. Things went blurry and I passed out. When I woke up, I had no money and deflated tires. People in Ghana often gave me the wrong directions. There’s a small percentage of people who will try to hurt you. And they are hurting you because they think they will gain something.
The world’s perception of Africa is probably biased towards violence and conflict?
Yes. I have traveled through 100 countries and witnessed great pain and suffering. People are oppressed by government policies and ideologies, but people suffer because they lack natural resources or in many cases they once had resources but no longer do. Sometimes other people take them, sometimes the people ruin them without knowing. Too many times, people poison their own well. Now I realize that a healthy environment and a peaceful world are deeply linked.
These events won’t stop your mission?
The only thing that will stop me from completing my mission is myself. I have suffered some setbacks, but if you create a scale of pain versus gain, the gain side is growing very heavy. This emerging scenario is a sea of hope that grows with droplets each day I’m pedaling towards peace and harmony.