Meet Marion, A Ugandan Bike Messenger Turned Bike Champion

From French filmmaker Liz Gomis, this real-life story follows Marion, a very talented biker – and no, not just “for a girl”.

Africa Riding | bike messenger | biking

Africa Riding | bike messenger | biking

Dive into this inspiring short film of the documentary series, Africa Riding, from French writer and director Liz Gomis. This particular instillation follows Marion, a 23-year-old bike courier and the first female coach of the Kampala Cycling Club. Despite the fact that there are undeniable barriers to entry for a woman following in this line of work, she continues to tirelessly pave her own way for herself. Cycling is a way of life for Marion and she takes it to the highest level, her persistence and skill even leading her to win the Ugandan Championship.

We had the opportunity to speak with Liz Gomis herself about the process of getting this project together, cultural and societal expectations of womanhood and what’s next on her own journey! Take a look:

Can you share a bit about this project in general, the concept and how it came to be?

Actually, this project was something I had in mind for ten years. Yann Gross‘ photographic work about Kitintale skatepark was the starting point. One of the girls (I think her name was Christine) he depicted was posing in front of the halfpipe and I wanted to know more about her. We were from the same generation and I wanted to know – what was her reality living in Kampala?

What is your personal background – what drew you to combine film-making and action sports like skating, rollerblading and BMX?

I’m not a skater but I used to be an athlete, so I always had a sensitivity for sports in general. What I love about those kinds of sports is the urban dimension. I have always been involved in urban activities like street dance, graffiti and everything that grows from concrete. As for film-making, for a long time I thought it wasn’t accessible until I went to Brasil for six months after winning a scholarship. What I experienced there in Sao Paulo made me realize I definitely needed to explore this field, because I had so many stories in stock that I wanted to share.

Africa Riding | bike messenger | biking

Tell us a little about Marion! What was your experience like with her? How did you find each other and what was the experience like?

When I pitched the idea of this documentary, it was obvious that women would be involved. I started digging on the internet and my boyfriend, who’s fond of cargo bikes, told me that there was a bike messenger company in Uganda. So I wrote a few messages through their Facebook page asking if there were some girls involved and then one day, I got a reply of the boss telling me that yes, there was that special girl I was looking for in the club.

I called Marion but she was very shy. I didn’t want to assault her with intimate questions, so I started to call her regularly, sometimes just to know how she was. I wanted her to trust me. And so for about two months, she started to open up and then my work was to script everything she was saying to have a full story before flying to Uganda.

When we got there, after two months of a long distance friend-relationship using WhatsApp, it was kind of weird for her to have that film team following her, plugging microphones and all. So the first day, we just broke the ice and then she started to understand the impact she could have by talking in front of her camera. Because in a way, she was just looking in a mirror and facing what her reality was and what kind of role she was playing for girls like her in Kampala. But she was always calm and measured. You couldn’t feel her excitation. She was just doing the job like she’s been doing it for her other 7 lives!

Africa Riding | bike messenger | biking

What was most interesting to you about Marion as you listened to her story and followed her routine?

The most interesting part was that she wasn’t theorizing anything and she wasn’t “claiming” anything… She was just being Marion, doing her thing and pushing things forward without any kind of calculation. She was far from my Western considerations about feminism and such. In fact, when I asked her the question if she was a feminist, she didn’t even reply. She was just like “what do you mean?”.

Actually, I learned a lot about myself and about the perspective that we, as Westerners, have. My reality and my fights are not hers and my references cannot fit hers. And wherever you are going, you have to keep that in mind. We’re not the center of the world.

What struck you the most as far as cultural differences during this shoot?

The fact that women cannot ride a bike without being judged. For me, riding a bike is the simplest thing ever, and again, I thought that my world view here was the “norm”. Even if I’m from African descent and I’m regularly traveling on the continent, I was born and grew up in France. So my perceptions are twisted. So yes, it was a giant lesson of life to re-adjust my look on things there.

How would you describe the current climate for women in these sports – not just in Uganda but maybe overall?

I think everywhere in the world, we still are fighting to find the place we deserve. As for these particular sports, things are really evolving, but in Africa it’s still quite new. And those sports are not perceived as “valuable sports” because we still can’t see the profit of it. Making a career out of this is not in sight because there’s no industry for it, no shops, no championships, no federation – no nothing. Brands are starting to show up, but for the moment, they only distribute goodies and soda cans…

So it’s hard for men too and harder for women because they are supposed to provide for the family. They are supposed to respect certain codes, attitudes and reputations. Skating is perceived as too boyish sometimes or even childish, so by definition not meant for a woman who’s supposed to raise children. We still have work, but we’ve had some good examples that actually made mentalities change. In 2007, Awa Baldé, a young woman from Senegal, won the gold medal at World Roller Games Championships in China and this year, the city of Dakar decided to build a space for her and her teammates to practice and bring back more medals next time. As I was saying, if they see results, mentalities will change.

Africa Riding | bike messenger | biking

What’s next for you??

Another series about women in sports in Africa. I’m still looking for distribution, so I don’t want to tell more. But it’s going to be another unexpected discipline where women are taking the lead.

Do you have a last piece of advice for women or girls trying to “make it” in a predominantly male-dominated field, or just in general?

My last advice is to believe in yourself and don’t let people belittle your projects, dreams and yourself. Sometimes it takes time and you may fail but if you stick to your plan, it’ll happen. Trust yourself!

Thanks, Liz!

Africa Riding | bike messenger | biking

Africa Riding | bike messenger | biking

Africa Riding | bike messenger | biking

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