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My Story: Mpunga Coco Kazadi

This story by Mpunga Coco Kazadi, recounting his experience with Bikes for New Mainers program created by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of the League’s magazine, American Bicyclist. Click here to read yesterday’s post about the Bikes for New Mainers program.

I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I came to Portland, Maine, in February 2015, fleeing politically motivated threats and assaults. Those traumatic events triggered my resolution to stay in the United States and seek asylum.

As a former employee for a multinational company, I have faced unexpected challenges as I reshape my life. I am surviving on very little money while awaiting work authorization from the federal government.

During my first months in Portland, I walked everywhere I possibly and reasonably could go by foot. That included adult education classes, the library, the grocery store and the post office. Walking helped me to satisfy my curiosity and discover new places. I walked for exercise and to relieve anxiety. Sometimes I caught a bus for longer trips, but that meant spending money.

I learned about the Bikes for New Mainers program through a flier posted at a Portland Adult Education class. I just couldn’t believe it — three days of training, a bicycle, a helmet and a bicycle lock… all for free? Was it a joke? I confirmed the information and started counting down the days.

I had learned how to ride a bike in the DRC. My uncle used a bicycle to haul his maize, beans and peanuts to market. We also used bikes to carry people, but road conditions were poor. Cyclists had to yield to cars and use as little road space as possible or they would get honked at frenetically.

In the Bikes for New Mainers course, I learned that U.S. cyclists are road users just like other drivers; we share the road with motorists. I no longer let the motorist lead on the road. We are equal and respect each other — we communicate. How powerful is that?

I am a zero-income Portland resident for now and my bicycle is the perfect tool to take me places around my new city.

The course’s instructor was amazing, and the presentations were clear and practical. I came out of this course confident as a bicyclist. I am able to educate others, too.

I am a zero-income Portland resident for now and my bicycle is the perfect tool to take me places around my new city. Since I got my bicycle, the city seems smaller. It takes me 30 minutes to walk to the grocery store from my apartment, but only five minutes to bike there. With the bicycle, I can venture further and deeper in the city, discovering more attractions.

I am grateful to the anonymous person who donated this bicycle and to the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. You are making a great difference.

Click here to read more about the Bikes for New Mainers program.

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